The mining industry and environment movement have long been at loggerheads, but conflict has escalated in recent times with the rapid world-wide expansion of the unconventional gas industry.
The growing animosity reached a new high, when Stephen Galilee (NSW Minerals Council's head) published an extraordinary personal attack on two young female conservationists, accusing them of “economic vandalism” and calling for them to be jailed for their actions in opposing coal and gas mining (The Australian , 14th April).
The claim of vandalism by a mining industry lobbyist against conservationists is a “bit rich”, given incidents such as the recent coal mine fire at Morwell in Victoria where a failure to undertake required rehabilitation and removal of fire-fighting equipment saw the fire burning out of control for weeks, spewing toxic smoke over the township, forcing inhabitants to flee their homes to escape the health risks. The real social and economic costs of that incident are unlikely to ever be determined.
The Maules Creek coal mine, protests against which triggered Mr Galilee's article, is owned by Whitehaven Coal, itself the recipient of multiple fines for environmental vandalism, as has Santos, the owner of the Pilliga coal-seam gas operation, with the latest $1500 fine, imposed for polluting an aquifer, not even covering the investigation costs. Again the potential long-term economic costs of those pollution events will probably never be known.
Mr Galilee's vicious attack focusses on two courageous conservationists, Georgina Woods and Carmel Flint, describing them as “professional activists” because they have represented other environmental organisations in the past. However, while occasionally being paid for their work, their remuneration would pale into insignificance beside that received by Galilee, who apparently fails to see that he too is a professional activist, lobbying on behalf of the mining industry, with a long history working as adviser to various government ministers on mining matters.
The only difference, other than their salaries, is that Mr Galilee lobbies on behalf of the mining industry and its share-holders, while the girls lobby on behalf of all humanity, and those that have no voice, our wildlife.
- John Edwards
This article was published in The Daily Examiner (under a different title) in the "Voices for the Earth" column on 28th April.
Carmel Flint's work for the environment was recognised by the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC) in 2010 when she received the CVCC's ReWeavers' Award. Since then Carmel has continued her work for the environment, notably campaigning for improvements in environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin and also in campaigning against coal seam gas mining, particularly in the Pilliga.