In what appears to be the first ever rejection of a new coal mine by the NSW Government, Premier Kristina Keneally has today rejected the proposed Bickham coal mine in the Upper Hunter Valley. This is a huge win for the local community, which has been campaigning to stop this mine for the past decade eight years.
Premier Keneally is to be congratulated for putting the interests of people and the environment above the interests of the coal industry.
The company, Bickham Coal, was understandably disappointed and no doubt somewhat flummoxed by the decision. Coal mines are not supposed to be rejected in Australia – it isn’t part of our story about ourselves. At least not until now.
This decision is part of a growing tide of oppostion to the coal industry. When the new coal loader opened in Newcastle last month, the first ship to leave the facility was escorted by a swirl of police boats to fend of environmental protests. BHP are running into huge opposition to their plans to turn the rich plains of the Gunnedah Basin into a coal mine, with local farmers mounting a sustained blockade of exploration activities. Hundreds of people are arrested each year in Australia for protests against the ongoing expansion of this polluting industry.
Coal has played an important role in our national psyche and in the national economy, but that role is changing. Politicians used to be proud to open a new coal power station or coal mine, now they shirk the limelight and approvals are granted with minimal fanfare. Climate change means that coal is a sunset industry. The only question is how quickly can we replace coal as an energy source … and it’s a lot quicker than you might think.
But climate change isn’t the only issue. It is increasingly apparent that the coal industry can’t co-exist with anything other than itself. It ruins almost everything it touches – rivers, groundwater, agricultural land, air quality, and other industries. In the case of the Bickham mine, it was the multi-billion dollar thoroughbred industry that was under threat – until it threw its considerable weight behind the campaign.
This victory sends a signal to local communities all over the country that it is possible to stand up to the coal industry and win. It will be a much needed morale boost for other communities in the Hunter valley, the Gunnedah Basin, the Illawarra and in Queensland and Western Australia who are fighting new coal mines. It is yet another signpost on the journey beyond coal.