The struggle for the Leard State Forest

Nicola Paris

Chain Reaction #120, March 2013, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/120

From a farming community and a small base camp, the campaign to save Maules Creek and the Leard State Forest in north-west NSW has grown into an issue of national importance; it is one of the frontlines for the climate movement in resisting new coal expansion.

The proposed expansion of Whitehaven coal is projected to destroy 2,000 hectares of Leard State Forest and dump thousands of tonnes of coal dust on surrounding communities. It is both a local and a global campaign, with local farmers and Traditional Owners leading the resistance.

The climate impacts could be extreme. To quote Ian Lowe: "To put the potential impacts into a global perspective, if the Maules Creek mine were a nation, it would rank 75th in the world for total emissions, ahead of the greenhouse gas emissions of 140 entire countries ... So the proposals really are of global significance."

And there is a critical forest on the line, which is already being impacted by other mines in the area − Boggabri Coal operated by Idemitsu and Tarrawonga, operated by Whitehaven. Leard State Forest includes the most extensive and intact stands of the nationally-listed and critically endangered Box-Gum Woodland remaining on the Australian continent. The forest is home to 396 species of plants and animals and includes habitat for 34 threatened species.

The project has been dogged by controversy, with legal challenges, a federal investigation into allegedly false and misleading statements made by Whitehaven coal, contention over supposed carbon offsets, and ongoing widespread opposition from environmentalists, local farmers, Gomeroi traditional custodians, and growing resistance in the cities.

The success of the growing campaign − and the direct action which has been running for over 500 days, including a series of running actions for the past two months − can be measured in part by the increasing attacks in the media and efforts to shut down the protest camp.

With headlines in The Australian like 'Whitehaven under pressure as Maules brawl steps up' (Feb 26, 2014), and a public campaign seeking to vilify the protesters, as well as pressure being put on the local shire to move protesters on a second time from their new camp location, Whitehaven coal is certainly feeling the heat. However, with 33 peaceful civil disobedience arrests to date, there is no sign of the campaign slowing down.

One of the strengths of the campaign is successful alliance building. A remarkable coalition of environmental organisations are taking the struggle seriously including Greenpeace, 350.org, Nature Conservation Council, The Wilderness Society, Frontline Action on Coal, Northern Inland Council for the Environment, and the Quit Coal collective at Friends of the Earth.

As with the Lock the Gate movement, we are seeing Traditional Owners standing with environmentalists, students standing with farmers, country and city folk working together with a shared vision of clean air, water, farmland, protected forest and a liveable climate.

In a moving ceremony on survival day (Australia Day), the Gomeroi people were joined by local farmers. Fifth generation local farmer Phil Laird paid tribute to the ongoing resistance of the local Traditional Owners and talked about his fears of having farming land destroyed.

Heads of environmental nongovernment organisations joined the Gomeroi people in February to sign a historic 'Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Environmental Protection Agreement' for the area threatened by the Maules Creek and Boggabri mines. The agreement sets out the protocols for protecting cultural heritage, lands and water and it formalises the ways in which Gomeroi Elders and community will come together to protect what is jointly important to them.

Gomeroi Elder Dick Talbot said: "The common threat of open cut mining in a culturally and environmentally significant area such as the Leard State Forest has brought our communities together − we are coming full circle."

The campaign is continuing with another major convergence planned, and people are needed at camp all the time. You can find out how to help and get more information at: frontlineaction.org

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Stand with Jono Moylan

The struggle for Maules Creek and Leard State Forest gained national prominence in January 2013 after an action by Jonathan (Jono) Moylan, who sent a press release purportedly from ANZ bank, announcing its withdrawal from funding the Whitehaven project on ethical grounds.

In a phenomenal over-reaction the Australian Securities and Investments Commission charged Jonathan with a section of the Corporations Act, which sees him a fine of up to $765,000 and 10 years jail. Meanwhile corporate criminals and profiteers walk free.

Jono will face the Supreme Court in June 2014, and a growing solidarity campaign is standing with him, for peaceful civil disobedience actions, against big coal and government decisions that prioritise profits over people and calling for widespread divestment from fossil fuel industries. Find out more, donate and get involved at www.standwithjono.org