This week I concluded my New Zealand tour with Australian John Krey. John is the leader of the Bulga community in the Hunter Valley, a village of 350 people who stood up to mining giant Rio Tinto and won a landmark court case preventing the company’s planned expansion of an open cast coal mine close to the Bulga town boundary. John has a great story to tell about hope, organising and strategic campaigning. His home in the Hunter valley is surrounded by huge destructive coal mines which come within 6 kms of his home and his message is clear – stop the companies at the exploration stage, reject the idea that mining jobs will save your economy and gather up all the independent experts available to help your case.
John described the health effects of dust from the open cast coal mines on local families, especially children, and the impact of constant noise especially from low frequency sound from the mine. He reckons the conditions negotiated for the Correnso Mine at Waihi are lax on noise and outrageously permissive.
We spoke at two public meetings in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) and also with tangata whenua at Puhipuhi where mining companies are about to start exploration work. The first meeting in Kaeo drew 90 people from the surrounding areas, all keen to protect their area from mining. The meeting in Whangarei attracted 100 people and brought together members of the Northland Minewatch organisation as well as citizens from Kauri Mountain and Whangarei Heads who had just received notice that their communities are under threat. Everyone appreciated John’s story of the Bulga victory against Rio Tinto.
Then we met groups in Thames, Waihi and Mangatawhiri to discuss threats from coal and gold which are immediate issues in these communities. In Waihi I launched my Members Bill which will protect residents from mineral mining underneath their homes. This is important, because many residents fought very hard to stop foreign-owned Newmont Gold from mining under their homes in Waihi, and recently lost. Hopefully my Bill will be drawn from the ballot and will be considered by Parliament.
The lessons from the Bulga battle are numerous. We were particularly struck by the residents making Rio Tinto pay for the independent consultants they used to critique the company’s evidence. We very impressed that they used three economists in their court case who proved that coal mining was an economic deficit for the region and we recognised the value of the academics they managed to muster to help win their case.
The law in Australia is different but the Government and mining companies are pushing the same lines. John outlined how the economy of the Hunter Valley has been undermined by mining, threatening the wine industry and the world renowned horse breeding sector, and killing off manufacturing. As the coal price collapses the skilled workers cannot go back to industries that mining has destroyed.
Bulga is both a warning and beacon of hope and it’s been great travelling with this Aussie battler. I am also very grateful to the hapu and community groups who have hosted us across the north and Coromandel. The Green Party supports their vision of a sustainable community and a healthy environment.