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Labor fails Maules Creek koalas, approves another coal mine

Lee Rhiannon 5 Jul 2013

Communities and koalas are set to be the biggest losers after the federal government gave Whithaven Coal’s Maules Creek project the go-ahead

The huge open cut coal mine in the middle of a wilderness hotspot will destroy 2,000 hectares (about 2,800 football fields) of old-growth forest. And it will put further pressure on the New South Wales koala population which is already on the ‘threatened species’ list.

Koalas are just one reason why, as I’ve said before, the forest is too precious to lose. But let’s be clear – they are a massive reason.

Back in March I had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful habitat that the Maules Creek mine will trash if it goes ahead. I camped at the Leard Forest Listen Up Festival.  It was a great weekend catching up with local farmers and activists working so hard to protect this area. Check out my blog and photo stream from my visit.

Every time the developers win, the koalas lose. Logging and mining are destroying the koalas’ habitat piece by precious piece. Koala numbers have fallen by more than 30 per cent in New South Wales in just 20 years. That’s why Tony Burke, when he was Environment Minister listed them as a ‘vulnerable species’ in eastern Australia.

But the koala has been trumped by the desire of the Labor Government to fan the dying embers of the coal industry’s fire – an industry in the twilight of its years.

There is simply no way that we can combat climate change at the same time as building new coal mines – we must decide which we want to do.

Fortunately that choice is getting easier everyday as an innovative renewable energy industry begins to bloom. Driven in part by the carbon price, renewables are taking an ever-growing share of the energy market as investors see the opportunities.

Unfortunately the Labor Government is still stuck in the past and continue to approve more coal mines at the end of the fossil fuel era. Senator Larissa Waters, as the Greens mining spokesperson, has been a vocal opponent of this failed policy of the old parties. 

Cate Faehrmann is also campaigning to protect koalas and stop the expansion of the coal industry. Read about her work here.

In Maules Creek the local community has been running an energetic campaign against Whitehaven’s plans. And they’ve been using the traditional favourite arguments of the mining lobby – that coal is good for jobs and the economy – against them.

The economic case for the mine is weak. The modelling commissioned by the project’s proponents was shown to be wildly inaccurate. Unsurprisingly, it ignored the external costs of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. But more surprising was its failure to assess the impact of a huge open cast mining operation on agriculture or tourism.

The Maules Creek Community Council also point out that the jobs created by these kinds of projects rarely go to locals. They are likely to be filled by drive in/drive out workers from far afield. Large mining camps to house this imported workforce are already planned. A sudden influx of young men also changes the family-orientated nature of the local community.

There’s no doubt that giving the mine the go ahead is a setback. But it’s not the end of the story. I am sure the Maules Creek community are already regrouping and considering what to do next. I have been impressed with their strong campaign to date and I look forward to standing with them in their ongoing work to stop this coalmine.

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