Wollar Community Says No More Coal

Abigail stood today to show support for the Wollar community, which has been and continues to be heavily impacted by coal mining. Abigail opposed the recent allocation for yet more coal mining in the area, and emphasised the urgent need to support our communities in transitioning away from coal.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (00:10) said: 

Wollar is a village that has been all but destroyed by coalmining. In 2006 the Wollar village and its surrounds had a population of 304 people. By 2016 there were only 69 people living in Wollar. In what has been a deliberate effort to depopulate Wollar to make way for its Wilpinjong mine, the United States mining company Peabody purchased almost all of the houses and land in the town. The remaining residents of Wollar have seen their town transformed by open-cut coalmines. Black dust regularly covers the town's buildings, inside and out. Residents are subjected to pungent odours and to having their window panes rattle up to five times per week as Peabody uses explosives to blast through the countryside. And that is on top of the constant noise of bulldozers, night and day. With Peabody now owning the majority of properties in the broader Wollar area, services have been shut down, including the local school and the churches that are now owned by the mining company. The stress on locals has been enormous. Wollar resident Bev Smiles says:

We had a very tight-knit community of people. It was a lovely place to live. That is what's personally impacted me. Losing my friends.

As if they have not suffered enough, on 20 April this year the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government announced the release of yet another 80 square kilometres of land for coal exploration over an area encircling Wollar. That was the same day that the Government announced it was paying $100 million to stop the threat of the Shenhua coalmine on the Liverpool Plains. Bev Smiles called it how she saw it. She said:

I feel like a second-class citizen. They have just traded us off. Wollar is the collateral damage to making that decision [on the Liverpool Plains].

One might think that Wollar has had its fair share of hardship, but not according to the Liberals and Nationals in this place. They actually see Wollar's demise as a justification for the decision to open the area up to further coal exploration. It is just another nail in the coffin. The decision to open Wollar to the possibility of more coalmines was done without notice given, without consultation with the surrounding community and without consideration of the social, health, and environmental repercussions. Having more coalmines in the area will make it unliveable for members of the local community. But it is not that the Liberals and Nationals do not already know that; it is just that they do not care. But perhaps they will say that we have got it all wrong and they do in fact care. If that is the case, this is what they will need to do next. They must commit to transparent and clear communication with the surrounding Wollar community regarding any further developments. Denying Wollar the process of a preliminary regional issues assessment for potential coal exploration was a mistake. As Bev says:

I don't know why the Wollar community is being singled out to be denied the opportunity to identify the huge number of cumulative impacts that we are already suffering from coal mining right up against our village.

The Government will also need to avoid, minimise and offset any impacts on ecologically endangered communities and threatened species, such as the regent honeyeater habitat, and ensure the protection of the Goulburn River National Park's heritage and biodiversity. The Government will need to assess and manage the potential impacts on surface water quality and flow regimes, particularly within the Goulburn River, which is a key part of the Hunter River catchment. And last but by no means least, the Government must ensure that any exploration focuses on a strong consideration of the significant Aboriginal heritage sites in the Wollar area in consultation with local Wiradjuri people to protect the many ceremonial, dreaming, art and grinding groove sites.

Existing mines in the Wollar area have already inflicted extensive harm on Aboriginal cultural heritage. Any further cumulative impacts must be limited. Better still though, the Government could just leave Wollar alone, finally admit that there is no need for new coalmines or expansions of existing mines and commit not to inflict more damage on the town of Wollar. The Government could focus instead on protecting jobs and working conditions in existing coalmines while facilitating orderly transitions away from reliance on the coal industry. By opening up the Wollar area to exploration, the Liberal‑Nationals Government is engaging in a dangerous fantasy. There is no future in coal—not for our workers, our communities, our environment or the economy. Global trends show that the demand for coal is decreasing rapidly. Renewable energy is no longer just a cleaner alternative but the only alternative to the dirty fossil fuel industry. To achieve internationally agreed climate targets, Australia must support our communities and the environment in the transition away from coal, ensuring that the industry does not inflict any more damage than it already has, sadly, on communities just like Wollar.

 

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