Dorothea Mackellar’s sweeping plains are going to be more unrecognisable than ever with the approval yesterday of a massive expansion of Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine, near Boggabri in northwest NSW.
Despite strong public opposition, and complaints from the Narrabri Shire Council, the Independent Planning Commission gave a green light to the expansion near Dorothea Mackellar’s historic homestead ‘Kurrumbede’, where she was inspired to write several of her famous poems, including ‘My Country’, learned by generations of Australian school children.
The $607 million expansion will double the mine’s yearly coal output, and disturb an additional 1284 hectares of fertile farmland and remnant woodland, with operation to be allowed for 25 years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There are also fears blast activity will damage the heritage value of the historic homestead and outbuildings.
Council’s complaints included concerns about the social and economic impacts of another massive coal project in the Namoi Valley.
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said in light of the sheer number and strength of the arguments opposing the Vickery Mine, it was clear the NSW Planning Department (which originally listed the project as ‘approvable’ before referring it to the IPC), had failed to act in the public interest.
‘Boggabri will now essentially be hemmed in from all sides by large coal mines. It will no longer be a farming community in any sense, but a coal mining service centre,’ Ms Hunter said.
‘Families have left, and the social fabric of the community is being torn apart. Farmers near the mine will struggle to compete with Whitehaven for access to water, and the dust and noise will create major issues.’
She said it’s clear that the Planning Department and Berejiklian Government had favoured the greed of a coal mining company over what’s best for the people of NSW, and ‘our community will be paying the price for that for years to come.’
In a classic revolving door situation, Whitehaven’s Chairman is Mark Vaile, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the leader of the National Party from 2005 to 2007.
Major questions remain about how his company’s expanded Vickery mine will gain access to an estimated 1,750 megalitres of water needed annually. Landholders are deeply concerned that in times of drought, the company will dangerously exacerbate water shortages.
Crimes and misdemeanors
Maules Creek resident Ros Druce said given Whitehaven’s horrendous track record, it should never have been allowed to apply for a new mining licence.
Just this week the company faced new charges for alleged illegal drilling at its Narrabri Coal Mine, and Whitehaven has been taken to court six times in the past for other offences, including work-place safety breaches and unfulfilled biodiversity offset obligations.
The company has been fined multiple times in the past for allowing toxic blast fumes to drift over neighbouring properties, polluting air and water, illegal dumping of waste and illegal clearing of bushland.
Ms Druce said, ‘The NSW Berejiklian Government has rewarded Whitehaven for its litany of offences and the damage it has done to our community.
‘It is disgraceful that a company with this horrendous track record of environmental crimes can be given approval for another highly destructive coal mine.’
Whitehaven managing director and chief executive Paul Flynn welcomed the approval, saying Vickery ‘would further cement Whitehaven’s growing stature as a key supplier to premium overseas markets’.
The mine will mostly produce coking coal used in steel making.
Greenhouse gas emissions from burning the additional coal produced is expected to add a further 100 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide to the atmosphere, further fuelling the global climate emergency.
Whitehaven claims the expansion will create 500 jobs during the construction phase and a further 450 ongoing roles, but with a plummeting global coal price, the announcement from the IPC has had a negligible effect on their share price.
You can read the IPC’s determination in full here.
For environmentalists, the decision sets an alarming precedent for the IPC’s next major decision, in relation to the Narrabri Gas Project.