Hunter Valley candidate throws support behind coal miners [opinion]

I am not here today to present legal arguments, because this is not a court room. I am not here today to make environmental assessments, because environmental assessors have already done that. I am not here today to play the role of bureaucrat, because that is the role of the department of planning.

I am here today, because I support the Drayton workers and their families, many of whom have expressed to me their frustration that their voices have been drowned out in this process.

Many people were surprised when, as an independent candidate for the state seat of Upper Hunter, I came out in support of the Drayton South expansion. As the former Upper Hunter Shire Council Mayor I had opposed the development of the Bickham coal mine near Murrurundi.

Others were surprised that I formed a view at all! As it seems the status quo is politicians should sit on the fence, wait for a decision to be made either way and then tell people “I was behind it all along” or “I opposed it all the way”, depending on who they are talking to.

So, why do I support this expansion?

I support the Drayton South expansion, because fundamentally this is about an existing mine, wanting to continue operations on land they have owned for years. The mine has been in operation for more than 30 years and those 30 years are proof it can co-exist with neighbours.

To be clear, Coolmore purchased their property neighbouring the mine in 1991 and Darley purchased in 2008. They were both fully aware that there was a fully functioning open cut coal mine as their neighbour and they proceeded with their purchase.They were both fully aware of the land that Anglo owned and the coal licences they held on that land and they proceeded with their purchase.

For the horse studs to now run a campaign, stating they can no longer co-exist, is a bit like moving in beside an airport and demanding the airport close; it’s not reasonable.

The factionalism and at-any-cost-campaign style is also unreasonable.

The campaign by the horse studs has become an anti-mining campaign and the local community has become a casualty.

I’ve lived in the Upper Hunter area for decades and raised my family here, who are now raising their own family.

I have never witnessed the kind of factionalism that is occurring now within our community, between the horse studs and mining. It has developed into an “us-or-them” argument, which is churlish and unnecessary.

Despite the equine industry presenting a unified front in public, behind the scenes, there is a different story.

While the studs may all dutifully sign the petitions and support open letters in metropolitan newspapers, there are some within the equine industry who don’t believe this campaign is reasonable.

They feel this battle, is the wrong battle to back and that this campaign could actually undermine the broader thoroughbred industry in the Valley. They worry that this battle could erode their own chances of opposing a new mining development in areas where mining currently does not exist.

There are lots of theatrics involved.

Coolmore on one hand threatens to leave the Valley if the mine is allowed to continue, but they have purchased more land.

Stud workers have said they’ve been told there have been no group one winners from areas where there is mining, because of the mining, despite any epidemiological evidence of a connection.

While some of the arguments may get traction in the city where the politicians read the papers and the lobbyists have their ears, the local people are not being taken for fools.

When the mine states they directly employ more than 500 people, the studs then claim they employ more than 600. This kind of misrepresentation only discredits the equine campaign.

Local people know the truth and the horse studs should tell the truth. There are not, 600 people full time, directly employed at Coolmore and Darley-Woodlands.

Local people know that figure is taking in people from throughout the entire Hunter equine industry and includes overseas workers and casuals during breeding. They know the figures don’t add up.

The blasting is a good example of a genuine compromise between the mine and a stud, which is now being used for political point scoring. The mine could do fewer blasts with more impact, or more blasts with less impact and the preference by the stud was for more blasts at lower impact and now the lobbyists are exploiting that compromise, which was reached in good faith to paint Drayton as exceeding an acceptable number of blasts.

Overinflating figures and twisting facts, undermines the reputation of the Thoroughbred Breeders.

So too is recruiting submissions for PAC from people who live in Surry Hills and the Central Coast to skew the real local community sentiment.

It is disrespectful to the people who really do live in the local community and are directly impacted.

I genuinely feel for people who are impacted by mining and unfortunately there are plenty within our electorate who struggle to keep the coal dust out of their homes and whose family has been on a property for generations before a mine moved next door to them.

But I don’t have sympathy for people who purchase properties beside a mine and years later complain they can no longer live together and want the mine to close.

It is the choice of the horse studs if they want to continue their operations or close it down. It is the choice of the horse studs if they want to relocate their operations or remain in the Valley. It is the choice of the horse studs if they want to continue to employ their local workers, or move.

Unfortunately the Drayton workers don’t have those same choices.

The decision on if they can stay and if they can keep their jobs, won’t be freely made by them, or their employer, but by this PAC.

Drayton has already had to start laying off workers, as their operations wind down. This is no longer a hypothetical “people could lose jobs” this is already happening for these workers, they are already trying to work out how to pay their bills and find work elsewhere.

Anglo wants to stay in the Valley, Anglo is not threatening to abandon their local workers and move interstate, but this PAC could make that decision for them.

Today, many of the local mine workers are here because they know their fate hangs in the balance with the decision of this PAC.

They worry that they may be laid off before PAC makes a decision, they worry about how long they can survive without a wage before they have to leave the area to find work, they worry about taking their children out of school, their spouse having to leave their job to relocate and they worry about finding other work.

And it is not only the Drayton workers that worry.

There are subcontractors in this area hanging on by their fingertips and hoping that this expansion will go ahead and provide some buffer during a period of downturn in the Valley.

Anglo has not included those workers in their figures, but they are real and their livelihoods are also hanging in the balance.

I appreciate that there are workers employed on Coolmore and Darley-Woodlands who are also worried about their job security, but there is a fundamental difference that the PAC needs to recognise when they make their decision.

Their employers have a choice, it was their choice to purchase property beside the coal mine, it is their choice if they stay and it is their choice if they continue to employ local people.

The employers of the Drayton workers don’t have a choice; they have to await a ruling on if they will keep their jobs.

I do not give blanket support for mining, I will not be forced to be polarised as pro-mining or pro-horse studs and I resent the people, from both sides, who are trying to factionalise our community in that way.

In this case, I stand firmly in support of the expansion and of the workers of Drayton. 

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