Farmers protest against coal

People power came to Gunnedah in north-west NSW on September 15 as more than 300 farmers and their supporters rallied outside the Gunnedah Basin Coal Conference. They were protesting against a coalmining project in the agriculturally rich Liverpool Plains that was given state government approval in 2006.

The protest organisers, the Caroona Coal Action Group, opposes BHP Billiton's plan to start exploration drilling for coal. CCAG wants an independent study on the likely impact of mining on the region's extensive acquifers, which make the area an important food bowl.

A CCAG report on the protest stated that "supporters of clean air, clean food and clean water" were surprised that the conference delegates were "for some reason not using the front entrance".

Independent MP Tony Windsor, Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon and the National Party's Trevor Khan addressed the rally. Windsor spoke in favour of the miners funding an independent, catchment-wide study to determine whether mining and farming could co-exist sustainably. Rhiannon spoke of the need to maintain good agricultural land and Khan urged CCAG and its supporters to "maintain the rage". Doug Ranken from CCAG, and Narrabri grain grower and local councillor Bevan O'Regan, also spoke.

CCAG is not against mining, but oppose exploratory mining when studies on the long-term impacts of mining on the acquifers, and the Mooki, Quirindi and Yarraman Creeks and the Doona State Forest, have not been conducted.

In April 2006, BHP was awarded a coal exploration licence for the Caroona area. In July, local farmer Tim Duddy objected to BHP drilling on his property. BHP won a court injunction against him, but a community blockade of the Duddy property, Rossmar Park, in late July kept BHP off the land.

Since then a "people power" campaign, which involves the local Indigenous community, businesses and farmers, has kept up the pressure.