Last week residents of Bulga were disappointed to see that Rio Tinto has again ignored the community, the Land and Environment Court and the Supreme Court by lodging another development application to expand the Warkworth mine towards Bulga with exactly the same footprint and impact as the 2010 rejected application.
It is extremely disappointing that the attitude of the foreign owned Rio Tinto is to place the emphasis on job losses where the real underlying reason, in our view, is to increase the value of the Warkworth mine to get a better price for the sale of their coal assets. From recent publicity and the engagement of Deutsche Bank to sell their assets, Rio Tinto does not want to remain in the valley but would rather concentrate on their core profitable business, iron ore.
The threats of job losses plucks at the heart strings of the miner’s and their families and of course suits the Government who use this tactic to unreasonably approve mines that should not be approved.
A recent report found that 95 per cent of the working population do not work in the mining industry. The new Hunter Expressway provides much better and quicker access for displaced miners to work in Maitland and Newcastle and to be included in this 95 per cent. The non-mining sector in the Hunter is in good economic shape.
Under this recently submitted EIS which proposes the same scheme as the courts rejected, it appears there will be very few winners other than Rio Tinto. If this extension is approved the impact on the village of Bulga will see the ultimate demise of this 200 year old village and the displacement of the people living in it. The residents of Bulga do not want to see their village disappear as has been the case for Warkworth and Ravensworth and soon Camberwell.
It is even further disappointing that in recent weeks Rio Tinto announced that after spending $16M on test drilling and core sampling that they had stopped the investigation into underground mining possibilities and are not going to pursue this option. It has been the view of the Bulga community and others that the underground option would have been a winner and would not meet the resistance from communities as has the open cut proposal. Not only would jobs be saved and the operation continued but also the Warkworth Sands Woodlands would continue to exist, the majority of noise and dust would no longer impact upon the communities and Saddle Ridge would continue to provide protection. There would be no detrimental social impact on Bulga and other villages close by.
Last weekend, 200 residents and visitors attended the launch of a book called ‘The History of Bulga’ which documents families as far back as 1820. It is this blatant disregard for small communities, the history and their future than a foreign owned company will destroy.
Rio Tinto and has demonstrated an inappropriate attitude towards their employees as reported in a Newcastle newspaper last week. Clearly coal mining companies are very close to operating unprofitable businesses with the price of coal at mid $70.00 per tonne. A recent quote from the mining industry stated that two thirds of coal mines in New South Wales are running at a loss. It is understandable when that companies wish to reduce their work load that they will use whatever methods available to them to reduce expenditure. However bullying and intimidation in the workplace is not acceptable.
Whilst the residents of Bulga have had little time so far to assess the detail and impact of this extension application is clear that it is exactly the same as the previous one.
In the executive summary of the EIS it states “It is recognized that the proposal has some residual social and environmental impacts some of which would be experienced locally ……………….the impacts meet all current government policies and would be matters in accordance with industry best practice”. This is the ‘crunch’. No need to change the previously rejected project, just get the government to change to rules in favour of Rio Tinto!
It is well known amongst mining circles and the community impacted by mining that the government in this last 12 months has gone out of its way to help Rio Tinto get this Warkworth expansion approved. The issuing of the SEPP amendment (Resource Significance) by a former disgraced minister Hartcher and the current minister’s silence on having this removed does not help the credibility of the government. The removal by the Government of the right of communities to access a merit based appeal is a further blow to fair and transparent approval processes.
To further help Rio Tinto get this application approved, the EIS points out that the government has changed the rules for the environment and the offsets such that it is no longer necessary for the offsetting ecological communities to be ‘like for like’ to meet be requirements of the various acts. The mine now no longer has to follow the ‘like for like’ principles as pointed out in the court judgements
Further the previous Minster for Planning amended the important Deed of Agreement signed in 2003 to preserve Saddle Ridge and the Non-disturbance Area One (agreement which prevented open cut mining) such that Bulga no longer has that protection. It is unconscionable that minister Hazzard amended the protective Deed of Agreement such that the mine could then mine through these non-disturbance areas. This action reinforces community views that the government unfairly supports the mining industry and not communities.
In the EIS the words used by the consultants are insulting to communities and creates a loss of credibility for the EIS and mining companies. It is well documented and recorded in both the Land and Environment Court and the Supreme Court that Warkworth sands Woodlands is world unique and must not be destroyed. This current proposal intends to destroy the Woodland and yet the EIS quotes “It is recognized that Saddleback Ridge and Warkworth Sands Woodlands WSW are ‘features of interest’ to a range of stakeholders. Avoidance of these areas is not possible for the continuation of viable mining at Warkworth mine”. These elements are more than just ‘features of interest'. Given the importance of both of these environmental elements it is unconscionable that Rio Tinto continues to press for their destruction.
Rio Tinto wants everyone to believe that this new application is completely different to the original 2010. For example the EIS states “there are a number of important improvements and differences in this new EIS”. It notes ‘operational improvements’ which, when you talk to local residents, is absolute nonsense.
The EIS then goes on to talk of the “change in legislation and policy environment”. This of course is the crux of all of this. The impacts of the mine has not lessened and all those matters that the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court pointed out are still there and have the same impact as they had before. Nothing has changed, except of course that the Government has now altered the rules to allow the mine to overcome the points on which the Judge made his decision.
This is a disgrace both for the Government and Rio Tinto that these actions have been taken. Mining employees, the community of Singleton and surrounds, and communities around the Warkworth Mount Thorley mines need to be aware that this new application is exactly the same as the previous rejected application with the same impacts, the same health dangers, the same loss of Warkworth Sands Woodlands and must not be allowed to proceed.