by Peter Hannam / The Sydney Morning Herald
More than 100 protesters have blocked access for work crews in the Leard State Forest as the campaign to block construction of the Maules Creek open-cut coal mine expands.Workers from Whitehaven Coal, the developer of the planned mine in northern NSW, were turned away early on Tuesday, said Georgina Woods, spokeswoman for the Leard Forest Alliance. Machinery is tied up at three sites and four access roads are blocked, she said.
“We’re basically digging in to stop them from using the machines to clear the forest,” said Ms Woods. “It’s not going to end until this forest gets a reprieve.”
Police have arrested at least 10 protesters since the main blockade began about two weeks ago. One protester has been arrested on Tuesday as police move in on campaigners attached to several structures on the work site.
The campaigners want federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to revoke approval to clear the forest for coal mining.
Police and the Rural Fire Service this month succeeded in having the Leard forest declared closed to the public until March 31 by the Forestry Corporation of NSW because of fire risks. The move sparked complaints by environmental groups and a firefighters’ union.
Council eviction vote
A separate move by the Narrabri Council to evict the protesters from crown land under their control will now proceed after after several councillors had lodged an objection to the move. The council brought forward a vote on the eviction from February 4 and passed the eviction order on Tuesday afternoon.
“There’s a prediction that there’s very hot weather on the way,” said Bevan O’Regan, one of the councillors who halted the original council move, detailing the reason given for the early vote.
Mr O’Regan said the council’s general manager may not proceed to issue fines for those who refuse to move on from crown land.
“The question is now whether they will start evicting, or is it a bluff?,” said Mr O’Regan. “We’ll soon find out,” he said, adding that the protestors may not move their camps back into the forest.
The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a maximum of 35 degrees on Tuesday and then six days ranging from 37 to 40 degrees.
Among people risking arrest on Tuesday is Bill Ryan, a legally blind 91-year old Kokoda veteran, who is taking part with his 65-year old son, campaigners said.
“This blockade has given our community hope that we are not just the collateral damage of the coal industry,” said Maules Creek resident Roslyn Druce in a statement “(It) is doing the job the government should have done, protecting an irreplaceable forest.”