WA: Premier backflips on Margaret River coal mine

September 10, 2010
September 9 protest against Margaret River coal mine. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

An important campaign is emerging against the proposal to establish a coalmine in the iconic tourist and wine-making region of Margaret River in south-west Western Australia.

The campaign has attracted support in the local community, reflected in a pre-election Walk Against Warming rally attended by hundreds of people and several successful community organising meetings.

NSW-based anti-coal campaigner Sharon Munro spoke at a packed public meeting near Margaret River on August 28. Many of these activities have been organised by a new campaign group called No COAL!ition, formed to campaign against the proposal.

The Margaret River Shire has come out in opposition to the mine, along with the Winemakers Association, the Tourism Association, the Conservation Council and Safe Climate Perth.

Recently, the pressure against the mine has been felt at the state level. The August 29 Sunday Times carried a two-page spread by 60 Minutes journalist Liam Bartlett titled “Why a Margaret River mine is madness”.

After resisting even reporting the issue for weeks, the West Australian editorialised against the mine on August 30.

State local member and scandal-prone former Liberal treasurer Troy Buswell came out strongly against the mine on August 31.

On September 6, Premier Colin Barnett said the “state government does have concerns about a proposal for a coal mine in Margaret River” and it would consider legislation to protect the region.

This raised the hopes of local campaigners that a quick victory was possible. They pushed for a clear statement of opposition from the state government.

However, on September 9, in reply to a grievance motion by independent MP Adele Carles, Barnett refused to stop the company from making its mine proposal.

He said the government would still consider protection laws, but said even if this was introduced, there was no guarantee it would cover the area proposed for the mine.

There is a widespread view that state mining laws and the inadequate powers of the Environmental Protection Authority would not be enough to prevent the mine from proceeding.

Wa Labor MP Adele Farina said on September 9: “If the community do not take up the fight and expend tens of thousands of dollars in challenging the project every step of the way, the coalmine is certain to be approved, with the likelihood of inadequate conditions to protect the Margaret River area.”

Local landowners have said mining company LD Operations has started seeking land valuations with a view to buying land near the mine site.

Campaigners say this is an attempt to counter opposition to the mine. They say the state government should act now to stop the proposal rather than allowing the approval process to proceed.

If the mine proposal is approved, it would potentially open the door to other mines in the region.

Photos from September 9 protest outside state parliament in support of Adele Carles' grievance motion.

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