JOANNE McCARTHY: Interest excludes Bylong

Premier Mike Baird visited the town of Bulga to hear about the impact of mining, but Bylong residents missed out. Picture: Marina Neil
Premier Mike Baird visited the town of Bulga to hear about the impact of mining, but Bylong residents missed out. Picture: Marina Neil

AT 4.35pm on Tuesday, as NSW Premier Mike Baird was finishing his Upper Hunter trip to talk about coal, Bylong Valley Protection Alliance secretary Craig Shaw received an email.

The Office of Premier and Cabinet said Mr Baird wasn’t visiting Bylong to talk about coal.

‘‘I hope you will understand the Premier receives a significant number of diary requests and he is unable to accept them all,’’ the email said.

‘‘On this occasion, the Premier will be unable to accept your kind invitation.’’

On Wednesday, I listened to the March 12 election campaign interview between Mr Baird and Sydney radio announcer Alan Jones that prompted the Bylong invitation.

Mr Jones harangued Mr Baird about the impact of coal mining on NSW communities and Mr Baird made the following statements.

He would take a ‘‘deep personal interest in these matters’’.

He wanted to ‘‘know every single detail’’; would ‘‘never ignore the community’s concerns’’; the stories he was hearing ‘‘trouble me deeply’’; and he understood ‘‘what that would do to families and communities’’.

He went on – mainly because Jones kept on – that he wanted ‘‘to understand the science myself’’ of the impacts of mining.

‘‘I will become an expert in terms of understanding the scientific impact of this on communities, on our lands and on our water.’’

I think it’s reasonable to conclude the Premier made an election commitment that went beyond visiting the most contentious of current mine projects – the Drayton South and Mount Thorley Warkworth extensions – as he did on Tuesday.

And yet the Bylong group was turned down.

With respect to the Premier, the issue is not just about the impacts of mines, both positive and negative.

The issue, for many individuals living near mines, is the process that occurs while mines are being assessed and, just as importantly, after they are approved.

It is the process the NSW Minerals Council is never shy of saying is too onerous and drawn-out for multinational mine companies. But it’s that process, and particularly after mines are approved, where individuals are most isolated and left to deal with multinational companies on their own.

The case of people in an area surrounded by Mangoola mine (previously Anvil Hill), Mount Arthur and Bengalla mines will make the point that needs to be made about why Mr Baird has to do a lot more to become an ‘‘expert’’ who takes a ‘‘personal interest’’, than a single visit to the Upper Hunter with the media in tow.

Peter and Julie Brown don’t sleep at their Muswellbrook house because of noise from Mangoola.

In 2012, the Department of Planning wrote that five noise reports showed that ‘‘although often audible at night, the mine was not operating in breach of its conditions of approval when measured in accordance with the requirements and exclusions of the NSW industrial noise policy’’.

One of the ‘‘exclusions’’ is measurements during temperature inversions, where air is colder at ground level than higher up.

Noise is exacerbated during temperature inversions – so mine noise can be louder for people like the Browns than measurements show – but because the mine noise is exacerbated by a natural phenomenon the measurements are excluded.

It is the catch-22 of mining in the Upper Hunter, and presumably one of the ‘‘scientific impacts’’ Mr Baird wants to learn about.

In the case of the Browns, one report excluded 95 of 96 noise measurements because of temperature inversions, despite many showing non-compliance with licence conditions.

Mangoola, approved in 2007 after significant public protests, received a further approval in 2009 to move its coal processing plant 10 metres higher, and one kilometre closer, to the Brown house. A Department of Planning senior executive approved that move under delegated authority, and without public exhibition.

Since 2011 Mr Brown – a mine worker – his wife and mother, who has lived in her house for 30 years, have complained of excessive noise.

Temperature inversions occur in their area more than 80 per cent of winter nights, and 40 per cent of summer nights, according to Mangoola’s own reports. But the cost of shutting down so many nights would make the mine ‘‘financially unviable’’.

The mine won’t take verbal complaints from the Browns any more after they called a manager a ‘‘bastard’’, and 10 months later an ‘‘idiot’’.

Peter Brown is yet to hear if Mr Baird will accept his invitation to a sleepover.