Dendrobium coal mine extension plan protested

Anthony Roberts with lump of coal (copying the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison) in 2017. Image: Lock the Gate Alliance/Facebook

Protesters in Wollongong demanded the New South Wales Coalition government reject a plan to extend the Dendrobium coal mine on the grounds that it would endanger the water catchment for Sydney and the Illawarra.

Organised by Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA), the protest on on June 3 follows the government’s move to declare the expansion project by mine-owner South32 “state significant infrastructure”. POWA spokesperson Rada Germanos told WIN News that day: “The community will essentially have no say on the future of this damaging project”, and called on planning minister Anthony Roberts to reject the extension.

South32’s initial bid to extend the life of the Dendrobium mine to 2048 was rejected by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) in February 2021. It found “the proposed mine design risks long-term and irreversible damage to Sydney and the Illawarra’s water catchment”.

This year South32 submitted a revised application for a mine that is 60% smaller than its initial proposal and which would have a permit to operate until 2041 — an 11-year extension on its current permit.

Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA) has described WaterNSW’s response to the company’s initial scoping report as damning.

“WaterNSW’s scathing assessment backs our argument that an independent assessment of South32’s Dendrobium revised extension is required,” LTGA spokesperson Nic Clyde said on February 1.

“We’re confident that if this were to occur, the IPC would again rule the mine’s impacts on Sydney and the Illawarra drinking water catchment are too great.

“The NSW government took the decision away from the IPC because it didn’t like the last outcome. We need independence and scientific rigour when it comes to protecting our precious drinking water catchments, not ham-fisted politically motivated decisions,” Clyde said.

This is the first time a mining corporation has been granted a “state significant infrastructure” declaration.

Dan Gocher, director of Climate and Environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said in December: “This decision reeks of state capture. South32 and the NSW Minerals Council lobbied the NSW government for months to overturn the rejection of the Dendrobium expansion.

“Despite committing to shareholders in October that its industry associations would advocate in line with the Paris Agreement, South32 engaged climate change deniers in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nationals to push the NSW government to bypass the IPC,” Gocher said.

Clyde said on May 4 that case had become political, rather than “an evidence-based scientific” one and said the new federal government must use its powers under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act to reject the proposal.

The risks to the Sydney and Illawarra drinking water catchment are “very great”, he said. “The simple fact is South32 wants to continue long-wall mining that will further damage a special area of the water catchment and will still result in significant water loss. It just doesn’t make sense to risk these areas and our fresh water supply in perpetuity.”

[Lock the Gate Alliance is urging people to call on the NSW planning minister to seek a review of the mine’s environmental impacts by the IPC and make an objection submission by June 14. View the key documents online and make a submission here. POWA and Lane Cove Coal and Gas Watch will protest outside Minister Roberts’ office, 215 Victoria Road, Gladesville on June 9, from 9.15-11am.]