On the steps of Singleton’s Civic Centre, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that the Upper Hunter is among the communities that could soon benefit from the NSW Government’s $1 billion to fund local water infrastructure through the Safe & Secure Water Program.
Though the meeting was held in Singleton, the main announcement was focused on the Scone Water Treatment program, which is among the initial eight projects shortlisted to share in the funding that will be announced in the NSW budget.
The Premier confirmed $1.5 million for the Scone to Murrurundi Pipeline as part of the Regional Waste Water and Backlog water program.
“Everyone in NSW deserves access to reliable and high-quality water and the Safe & Secure Water Program has been established to enable communities to reach their potential,” Ms Berejiklian said.
However, it was more than just the Premier’s local appearance that was causing a stir, with a group of protesters attending the announcement to voice their passionate opinions about the demise of the Hunter’s historic villages.
Chanting ‘community before coal’, the group was adamant about having their voices heard by the government officials.
“We want the government to know that the balance of the current system is not right,” Hunter Environment Lobby spokesperson and local resident, Bev Smiles said.
“The current policies and decision making surrounding mining expansions are at the expense of our communities, of our future, of our environment.”
The aim of the Premier’s local appearance was to announce the allocation of funding to secure safe water systems for the Hunter region but the protesters couldn’t help but see the irony in the situation, questioning how the government can ensure safe water systems when mining expansions continue to threaten the Hunter’s water supplies.
“Mining companies are going to walk away and leave massive voids that will be filled with toxic water - precious water that could be used for agriculture,” Robert McLaughlin said at the protest.
But it isn’t just water sources that are causing the village residents’ angst. Sleep deprivation due to noise pollution, constant waves of coal dust, the loss of their sense of community, loss of road links, devalued properties and most concerning for the group, the underlying feeling of being stranded in a place that you once called home, but is now a void.
“Bulga, Wollar, Bylong, Camberwell – there is a whole raft of communities that have either been or are close to being destroyed by mining expansions, and the government is not fairly balancing their decision making,” Bev said.
“People in the community are being left economically disadvantaged with stranded assets, with houses they can’t sleep in at night, their children are suffering asthma.
“The health impacts, the economic impacts and the social impacts of mining expansions are not being dealt with fairly and we wanted the Cabinet to come to Singleton knowing that not everyone is happy about government decision making regarding mining in the Hunter Valley.”
And while the NSW Premier did not directly address the community group, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, Mr Scot MacDonald said he would be happy to discuss the residents’ concerns in an official meeting.