Tuesday, 13 September 2016
No Coal Mining in Southern Highlands
I represent my communities in the Southern Highlands who have signed the petition we are here to debate today and who are seated in the gallery. It is the second such petition in four years and it is equally urgent in its demand that coalmining in the Southern Highlands be stopped. In the words of petitioners, "requesting legislation to halt and exclude coal exploration and extraction on and below the land surface near Berrima and in the Southern Highlands, and in the interim there be a moratorium on current or proposed mining or extraction activity."
This petition contains more than 16,000 signatures. That is a very strong statement about the level of concern in the Southern Highlands community and more widely across the State. This community has loudly and repeatedly said no to Hume Coal's proposal to establish a coalmine in the middle of one of the few remaining open spaces close to metropolitan Sydney, the site of an unparalleled sandstone aquifer and the centre of prosperous tourism and agricultural industries. It also happens to be home to one of mainland Australia's most significant Georgian villages, boasting a courthouse, gaol, shops, cottages, and an historic hotel, which is the longest continuously licenced public house in New South Wales, and more than 50,000 people live there.The community is certain all of this beauty and prosperity is at risk from the proposed Hume Coal mine, and so am I.
This petition is the work, primarily, of the Battle for Berrima [B4B], a group of committed citizens led by Ken Wilson, Michael Verberkt, Rod Blay, Lyn Watson, John Lamb, Hugh Farrimond, Jock Pharey, Lyne Wilson, Heather Edwards, Ian Burns, Jill Brophy, Stewart Bunn and Amanda Fry. They have put their lives on hold to bring this petition to our Parliament today. I salute them and their great efforts on behalf of the community. B4B has staged fundraisers to pay for expert reports and raised awareness in community meetings and it hosts a comprehensive website. The village is covered with anti-coalmining posters and there is barely a street or a road in the Southern Highlands without a sign on the fence telling Hume Coal to go away.
The struggle against Hume Coal's proposal has been going on since 2010. I held the first protest meeting in the Sutton Forest Hall on a dark and very wet night that year and the community has led the way ever since. The community believes it is impossible for Hume Coal to mine underground without destroying the vast and unique sandstone aquifer that gives the highlands its wonderful water supply, its tall trees and generous pastures, its way of life and its beauty. The community believes a coalmine may create some jobs but will drive away others in the tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors.
The community also believes its pretty Georgian town of Berrima will be covered in coaldust from the mine head, which is planned to be no more than a few kilometres away. They dispute the wind measurements Hume has provided. Local knowledge tells them the town will be hard hit, as will people's lungs and health. Convict-hewn sandstone will not look quite the same when it is covered in coaldust, and the pretty town of Robertson is not keen on the dozens of coal trains that will roar through their village day and night.
The community believes that the economics of this mine do not stack up. There are many unanswered questions about the water licence required and exactly where Hume Coal expects to buy those water licences. They also believe that this is a fight worth winning but they do not understand why it has taken so long, and why a huge international company wants to wreck our beautiful country for uncertain gain. They do not understand why this just does not stop. I too would love to see a halt to this once and for all.
How frustrated are we all by the time this exploration and development proposal has taken? Highlands people are desperate to save their way of life, their livelihoods and the environment.I know and believe that in New South Wales we have good processes—the toughest environmental standards in the country and the most thorough and independent assessment processes, culminating with the Planning Assessment Commission. Aquifer interference policy requirements will need to be met, as will health and safety requirements.
I know the excesses of the former Labor Government when exploration licences were sold for millions of dollars and greedy Ministers made terrible decisions and rode roughshod over communities. That is a dark legacy and a stain on our State. I know how those decisions have shattered the confidence of communities in all of us who sit in Parliament and I know how hard we need to work as a government to rebuild that trust.
I know that we need to stay the course, believe in ethical decision-making, believe in proper checks and balances and believe in doing what is right for the environment, for people's lives and for our prosperity. I think we will get this right. I know good and independent processes are the only way ultimately to secure the common good, no matter how arduous and slow they may be.
The history of the world tells us that power without process and transparency lead inevitably to the corruption of the State, but my heart lies with the 16,000 people who signed this petition. I, too, just want it to stop.