Coal Patrol: Lithgow Protests Bring NSW Mining Back Into The Spotlight

By Rory O’Grady and Kathleen Ferguson

The New South Wales Government is being warned further delays on a decision to extend a Lithgow mine will affect the state’s power generation.

Centennial Coal has stood down up to 300 workers while it waits for approval to operate Springvale mine for another 13 years.

Workers and the CFMEU have rallied in Lithgow on Saturday protest against the delay, ahead of a second Planning Assessment Commission hearing early next month.

Strong language and strong support was a feature of the demonstrations, with the community angered by the lack of consultation and a perception that the state government in Sydney is doing as it pleases in the Central West.

How much land is mining using in NSW?
How much land is mining using in NSW? Information: NSW Mining. Graphic: Rory O’Grady

Tony Maher, national president of the CFMEU, described the Springvale situation as ‘an abomination’

He was one of multiple speakers at the public rally in Cook Plaza on Saturday in support of the miners who are being stood down while the government continues to mark time on what should have been a routine extension application for an existing mine.

“What we have is a government that can’t make a decision,” he said.

“It is ridiculous that a mine that has been operating for 20 years has to go though this Planning Assessment Commission process.

The CFMEU has also said it wants to ensure staff are not financially disadvantaged during the stand-down period.

Springvale miner Darrell Key said it was also an uncertain time for local businesses and employees at Mount Piper Power Station.

“There’s 1,000-odd jobs out there, and the spin-off and all the contractors that supply the mine and everything like that, so the place will be a ghost town.”

In a statement, the power station operator Energy Australia says it is managing its coal reserves to reflect the constrained supply.

The move by Centennial Coal has reignited debate regarding the future of resources in the state.

Coal mining continues to be a controversial topic in NSW, especially for farmers who want to use the prime agricultural land.

However, coal is major provider of electricity in NSW and Australia in general.

Origin Energy estimates that coal accounts for 73% for electricity production in Australia. With major coal mining hotspots in NSW such as the Hunter and Central-West, jobs still seem to be the priority.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics , 40 400 people worked in NSW mining in 2012-13.

As for coal, 85% of it in NSW is exported.

Where NSW mining money goes
Where NSW mining money goes Source: NSW Parliament figures

“Coal is the most important mining commodity in NSW accounting for 49.5% of the contribution made by primary industry to the NSW economy in 2009–2010.”

It seems mining in the state and indeed in the country, will not stay out of the headlines for long.