PROTESTERS, including residents opposed to mining projects in the Hunter and Gloucester, have called on Premier Barry O’Farrell to overrule his resources minister and scrap proposed new planning rules for deciding mine proposals.
Between 200 to 300 people gathered outside Sydney’s Supreme Court building this morning to rally against the draft changes, while inside coal giant Rio Tinto began its appeal against the overturning of approval for its Mount Thorley Warkworth mine extension.
A succession of speakers addressed the crowd, describing how residents still felt powerless against the major coal and gas companies behind projects in their communities despite promises from the Coalition that it would return planning powers to locals and protect aquifers and prime agricultural land.
Participants waved placards saying "Save Gloucester" and "Save Bulga", then collectively tore up copies of the Coalition’s ‘‘Contract with NSW’’ document that formed its election platform.
In the line of fire was the government’s recently proposed changes to planning rules, released by Resources minister Chris Hartcher, that would make the significance of a resource the principal consideration for consent authorities deciding on mining projects.
The release of the policy followed the Land and Environment Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn approval for Mount Thorley Warkworth, after the Bulga Milbrodale Progess Association challenged the project.
Former Gloucester mayor Julie Lyford waved a picture of Mr O’Farrell and Mr Hartcher posing in ‘‘water not coal’’ T-shirts with Central Coast residents during the state election campaign.
She said the government needed to recognise residents had lost trust in the bureaucracy to serve the state’s interests, after the Independent Commission Against Corruption found former ministers Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid corrupt in their dealings over coal exploration licences.
Earlier, Rio Tinto warned the jobs of its 1300 mine workers were at stake and even if the appeal was successful, a decision may come too late.
‘‘Already the Land and Environment Court’s decision is forcing us to move into a reduced footprint of the mine which is impacting the scale of the operation, driving up our costs,’’ Rio Tinto Coal Australia chief financial officer Matt Halliday said.
‘‘The economic contribution of the mine is very significant. We’ve gone through a very rigorous planning approval over several years only to have it overturned right at the back end of the process.
‘‘That means it’s a bit like playing Russian roulette with the economic future of NSW and the jobs of the workers at the mine."