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Speech: Maules Creek Coalmine

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 10 Feb 2015

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (17:04): The world is turning its back on coal. So many communities and so many countries are recognising that renewables are the way of the future, that they are commercially and industrially viable, and they are putting them in place. But in Australia, because of weak planning laws at a state level and weak environment laws at a federal level, it is so hard for communities to be heard. It is so hard to ensure that we do not allow greedy, selfish coal companies at this stage when the coal industry clearly is at a point of transition to engage in an unseemly coal rush just to boost their profits when it causes so much damage.

That damage is so extensive when it comes to the Maules Creek mine. Thirty million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be released every year for the 30-year life of this mine if it goes ahead. I congratulate the many farmers and supporters across the country and, indeed, across the world who are working so hard to ensure the right thing is done here and that protection for the Leard forest is put in place, that Aboriginal sacred sites and special places are not destroyed and that the climate action that we so urgently need is taken seriously and becomes a reality. There are so many reasons this mine should not go ahead. I congratulate my colleagues Senator Christine Milne and Senator Larissa Waters, who have set out the case very clearly. I congratulate locals Phil and Rick Laird, Ros Druce, Adam Ryan. They have done a fantastic job in welcoming thousands of people to their community. More than 300 have now been arrested in direct action. Jonathan Moylan, a Second World War veteran of the Kokoda Trail, and Bill Ryan are some of those people who are regularly there adding their voices and alerting the world to the crimes of Whitehaven.

This is a mine that, as I said, has been so destructive in many aspects. It is not just limited to environmental destruction. The way this has played out has also damaged the very fabric of our democracy. Some of the other senators have asked the question, 'Where are the corrupting aspects of it?' It is well documented now thanks to the strong ICAC corruption watchdog that we have in New South Wales. They have exposed the unhealthy association between mine owners, members of parliament and candidates and how that corrupting relationship plays out.

The former owner of Aston Coal 2, which was merged in with Whitehaven, the current owner of Maules Creek, was Nathan Tinkler. He was overseeing the Maules Creek project. Aston Coal 2, the company that merged with Whitehaven, was fined in 2013 because two of its directors had made reportable political donations which were not disclosed during the assessment of the Maules Creek planning application. This is one of the greatest tragedies in New South Wales. Labor and the coalition, for over a decade, voted together to weaken the planning laws and we have ended up with this situation where it is so hard for communities to have their voices heard.

Then Nathan Tinkler set out why he gives these large donations. His very words were, 'That's the way we do business in New South Wales.' ICAC received evidence that Tinkler made illegal donations to the Liberal Party and associated entities Eightbyfive and the Free Enterprise Foundation, and that he tried to bribe a Labor MP. ICAC has evidence that Eightbyfive received $66,000 in secret payments from Buildev, a development company also associated with Mr Tinkler, in exchange for political favours from the former New South Wales Liberal energy minister Chris Hartcher. So all the way along we see these connections. The very corrupting influence these political donations are having has been made easier because of the weak planning laws and it is conducive to a climate that is so deeply damaging.

The Greens are working to promote a fast transition of our energy systems from fossil fuels to renewable energy. There is no need for this damage to occur in such a wonderful area as Leard forest. Senator Waters set out how extensive this offset con job was and how it was perpetrated on the people of that region. This weekend I congratulate all those associated with Bat Attack and urge people to attend.

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