Timbarra: Stuttering frog joins the fight

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Timbarra: Stuttering frog joins the fight

By Olivier Maxted

Important new witnesses have been called in the legal battle against the Timbarra gold mine in northern NSW. Stuttering frogs, palmer wallabies and glossy black cockatoos are the cornerstones on which the Timbarra Protection Coalition will build their case.

The Malara-Timbarra native title claimants, who, along with environmentalists, are attempting to stop the mine, are seeking injunctions against roadworks, illegal clearing of habitats of endangered species, the use of water for ore processing and other activities. Timbarra is a sacred place for the local Bundjalung and Malara people.

The Tenterfield Council and the state government failed to do an adequate species impact statement (SIS) when they approved Ross Mining's application for a mining permit. Twenty-seven species of endangered flora and fauna are at risk should the mine go ahead. One species, Pugh's mountain frog, has only recently been discovered at Timbarra; it had previously been classified as extinct.

The NSW Land and Environment Court had ruled that it could not include evidence of threats to endangered species in its consideration of the case against Ross Mining. This ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal last month.

"In the first respect, it is an important decision for threatened species in NSW", said Chris Newton, the lawyer acting for the Timbarra Protection Coalition. "Secondly, it means that councils shouldn't just rely on what developers tell them."

There are two threats to the endangered species. One is from the open-cut mining and the habitat destruction that will result. The Timbarra plateau is one of only seven known high-altitude wetlands. Thousands of acres of this pristine wilderness are in danger.

The second threat is from the various chemicals, including two tonnes of sodium cyanide a day, that will be used to treat the ore. These chemicals, along with arsenic and other heavy metals released during the treatment process, will find their way into the Clarence River water catchment, which provides water for thousands of people in northern NSW. The impact of these poisons must not be underestimated.

Ross Mining's failure to undertake a proper SIS has meant that objection rights have been curtailed. As part of due process in any development application, a full and proper SIS, which can take up to 12 months to fully research, is required.

The only SIS that the mining corporation has produced was completed in less than a week. Approval for water extraction was given based on this woefully inadequate document. Ross Mining obtained permission to pump 183 million litres of water per day, paying only 60 cents per million litres.

The establishment of the need for a full and proper SIS before development can take place sets an important precedent for environmental campaigners in NSW.

Other Timbarra campaigning activities underway include Robert Ian Carowa standing for the Timbarra Clean Water Party in the March 27 state election, a March 2 rally and march from Sydney's Circular Quay to the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst and an exhibition titled Water more precious than gold at the Tap Gallery until March 7. For more information phone (02) 9283 2004, fax (02) 9283 2005 or visit <www.foesyd.org.au>.