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Coal & Community
<p>Ella Rubeli/The Global Mail</p>

Ella Rubeli/The Global Mail

John Krey, the Bulga resident who led the town’s uprising against the mine expansion, enters the court during Rio Tinto’s appeal.

Bulga Holds Its Breath

Mining giant Rio Tinto’s ongoing appeal to resuscitate its approved, then nixed, Hunter Valley coal-mine expansion, is over for the week. The people of Bulga again wait on a court to decide their fate.


Margaret Joan Beazley is an intense woman with a carefree mop of blonde hair that tumbles around her face and wide-framed glasses. When she speaks, it is deep-toned and rapid fire – belying her small stature.

Her interruptions to the robed barristers who appear before her in the grand, theatre-like New South Wales Court of Appeal are infrequent and, usually, reverent. But one Neil Williams SC – a lean, serious man who speaks in a slow, faint tone – caused a whiff of arch exasperation from Justice Beazley in her Court on Thursday.

“I could never accuse you of flourish, Mr Williams,” she said, gazing across her papers. “I think what is of concern to me is that there is a certain amount of flourish in this submission.”

The barrister stared quizzically.

Mr Williams was representing Rio Tinto – the global mining giant – in its efforts to salvage an enormous and now highly controversial coal mine expansion project which threatens to destroy the tiny village of Bulga in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney. The case has become emblematic within the tide of opposition to further mining in small communities across eastern Australia’s coalfields.

On his feet for a full day, Williams SC was trying to persuade Justice Beazley and her fellow judges on the Court of Appeal why they should toss out April 2013’s historic ruling from the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court, Brian Preston, that blocked the Bulga mine expansion – a decision that infuriated Rio Tinto and stunned the NSW Government.

But Justice Beazley wasn’t, on this occasion, buying one of the 14 grounds Rio presented for finding fault with Justice Preston’s judgment. The cause of her intervention was Williams’ assertion that Preston had failed to properly consider Rio Tinto’s assurances that unique woodland – to be destroyed by the expanded mine – would later regenerate.

Justice Beazley, however, said she believed Rio’s assurance had been properly considered – even if rejected – by Preston.

Williams SC, quietly elected to move on. If their small smiles were evidence, the Bench approved.

Of course, these exchanges telegraph little about how the Court of Appeal will ultimately rule when it brings down its decision – perhaps three months hence – on whether the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court was wholly correct to do what no other judge in Australia has done before: block a big coal-mining project that had been previously approved by a State Government.

That decision alone was enough to make Preston’s judgment a cause célèbre throughout the Hunter’s farmers, horse breeders, retirees and environmentalists, now arrayed against more coal mining.

6 comments on this story
by Daft

And the company which runs the mine (Coal and Allied) gets a tiny fine ($45k) for letting 6 million litres of sediment-laden water into a local creek. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-17/mt-thorley-mine-cops-fine-over-water-pollution/4893912

I personally don't think state governments should be allow to approve mines as they are addicted to the royalties for said mines.

August 17, 2013 @ 4:43pm
by Michael Rynn

The resource curse. Resources boom, encourages population growth from large skilled migration program ( 130,000 this year). Population growth requires more money and resources, for dwellings and infrastructure. State governments need to spend more. State governments run out of money. Cannot pay for education resources for local workforce. State governments encourage more resources exploitation to get more money.
Foreign corporations require more skilled workers and population.
Meanwhile sustainable, natural resources and ecosystems get trashed. Money leaves nation, in the form of raw resources and investment earnings.
Corporations don't care about the resource curse, they only care about the money flow.
Inevitable result. Resource boom ends. State left impoverished, natural resources gone, population under-educated and un-skilled, ecosystems scarred, agriculture productivity ruined.

August 19, 2013 @ 2:12pm
by JDog

You are totally right Draft.

I'm finding more and more, when it gets to these kinds of cases, the law is on the side of society and the environment, because most of the political establishment care little about the law and social factors and feel they can ram through these shoddy deals because there is little or no oversight.

A case in point, The Wilderness Society has just won the case against the EPA's James Price Point approval. It was a faulty decision process to begin with but the government ignored the voices of protest and bowled on because, unless they are taken to court, there is no one to stop them. Well that's aaxctly waht happened and the upshot is an expensive court case for which the taxpayers have to foot the bill because of a few mugs (current government) want the money so bad they they will sell their mothers. We'll all be 2 inches under water and the politicians will be approving mines and parroting, its good for jobs and the economy.

August 19, 2013 @ 3:11pm
Show previous 3 comments
by Carlos

I think its clear from the activities of various state and local govts across the country that none of them can be trusted with the approval process. So it comes down to the local people themselves being wholly in control of the approval - or otherwise - of any kind of 'development' in any given area.

August 19, 2013 @ 3:26pm
by Melissa

And thankyou to Bernard Lagan and the Global Mail for the excellent reporting on this issue and James Price Point. I hope very much that the rushed change in NSW law to prioritise the economy over other factors in approving mines dies a noisy and painful death. My last visit to the Hunter Valley we drove past a couple of vast open cut coal mines. The ugly scars will take many, many years to rehabilitate when all the coal is gone.

August 21, 2013 @ 4:11pm
by Brett L

Carlos If you left the development process up to NIMBYS like Mr Krey. This state would reurn to the Stone Age

August 22, 2013 @ 3:55pm
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