Below is the full version of an article by Paul Flynn, Managing Director and CEO, submitted to the Northern Daily Leader (26 March edition).
Truth and authenticity are important in election campaigns, certainly for candidates seeking public office, but also for anyone else wanting to contribute to the debate that will inform our voting decisions.
In election campaigns we’re being asked to make a choice about our future, and our kids’ future, and we should be able to do that with all the facts on the table.
Because I believe in this principle and because, as CEO of Whitehaven Coal, I place an extremely high value on how we’re perceived in the local community, it’s important I respond directly to Phil Spark’s opinion piece in Monday’s Northern Daily Leader.
I don’t dispute that there’s a legitimate debate to be had about how mining, agriculture and other land uses can and should co-exist. It’s a debate I’m very happy to have, because Mr Spark is not being straight with you.
Over the past four years, Whitehaven has invested nearly a billion dollars to build Maules Creek.
We’ve navigated one of the most painstakingly thorough environmental approvals processes in existence today, totally transparently, and subject to a level of scientific and technical scrutiny that our opponents could not survive because their claims are simply false or misleading.
Despite this, we’ve also had to spend many thousands of dollars defending spurious legal challenges brought by the Environmental Defenders Office, which incidentally has spent many thousands of your taxpayer dollars to prosecute their claims.
Those opposed to Maules Creek have misled the community with falsehoods, which they’ve perpetuated with a well-organised and relentless campaign funded by radical environmental groups to disrupt our project. They have intimidated our workforce, damaged our property and on occasions, put lives at risk. Again, many thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent by the NSW Police whose limited resources have been diverted to Maules Creek time and again to maintain law and order and ensure that no one gets seriously hurt.
We’ve gone through all of this, as many locals will know, to build a coal mine in a residual State Forest that has been heavily logged by contractors to the State Government for decades; and an area that has been properly found over ten years ago to be suitable for only two future land uses: more logging, or mining.
And of course the Maules Creek mine, far from destroying the Gunnedah Basin, is providing an enormous economic stimulus to the region through the creation of hundreds of jobs. Thousands more will benefit indirectly from the wider prosperity the mine will deliver to the region. We are particularly proud of the fact, frequently not reported or acknowledged, that the Maules Creek workforce is already 16 per cent Aboriginal.
Mr Spark won’t acknowledge any of this, because Mr Spark hates coal mining, and he’ll say anything to stop it dead in this State. He doesn’t have a viable alternative plan to provide energy security. He doesn’t care if your power bills triple or quadruple. He doesn’t have a plan for giving young people training, jobs and a future in our community.
Mr Spark says the approvals process for Maules Creek has been “exposed as seriously flawed”. But that isn’t the case. All of the properly constituted regulatory and legal authorities that have looked at Maules Creek have approved it. Not even the Senate Committee the Greens cooked-up to review the approvals process supported his claims. The Greens had to issue their own minority (dissenting) report.
Mr Spark claims there is “evidence of false information” that was used to support our environmental impact statements and that this was presented “through Kevin Anderson to Government”. But just because Spark reported the existence of this ‘evidence’ as a fact in a letter he wrote to the local MP, doesn’t make it true. And it’s shockingly unfair to Mr Anderson, a week out from election day, to imply he was in possession of ’smoking gun’ evidence. No such evidence exists and the Federal Department of the Environment said as much in 2014 after formally investigating this absurd claim.
The assertion that the Nationals, or any political party, have been captured by the mining lobby is not just a lie, it’s mischievous, because Mr Spark knows that politicians didn’t approve this project, the independent Planning Assessment Commission did. And as anyone who has dealt with this Commission will tell you, the PAC sets the bar high and asks proponents to jump over it repeatedly until it’s satisfied everything stacks up.
Mr Spark says the NSW Environment Minister should come to Maules Creek to check out why 400 people have been arrested there. I’ll save Rob Stokes the trip and tell him it’s because they broke the law.
There is a legitimate debate to be had about climate change and our future sources of energy, including transitioning to cleaner burning coals like the high-quality product being mined at Maules Creek. I would argue that cleaner coal is the best, most pragmatic way to reduce carbon emissions in the short term, while ensuring we can keep the lights on.
Elections ought to bring out the best in us. For all his high-handed comments about people power and democracy, Mr Spark has ignored the one currency that matters: the truth.