By Joshua Hewitt
The Southern Highlands, south west of Sydney, is the scene of a long-running dispute between the resident group, Southern Highlands Coal Action Group, and Hume Coal.
Hume Coal holds an exploration licence covering 89 square kilometres of the highlands, and since last October has tried unsuccessfully to gain access to a property in Sutton Forrest to begin exploration work.
Led by convenor Peter Martin, members of the local group are blockading the property. Mr Martin, a semi-retired Sydney businessman, formed the group in August 2010 when he first discovered a mining development proposal was set to impact his and his neighbours’ properties.
In an action taken in the Land and Environment Court, Hume Coal attempted to bring an injunction to stop the blockade, a move that was unsuccessful and has been referred to a full hearing before Justice Terry Sheahan. It is a decision welcomed by Mr Martin, who says, “Communities have realised that if they don’t look after themselves, they’re going to get trashed.”
Wingecarribee Shire Councillor Larry Whipper agrees with Mr Martin and says that in his experience the environment is always the first casualty.
Ms Kelly Lofberg, a spokesperson for Hume Coal, said in a statement released following the court decision, that Hume Coal was disappointed, however remained confident that no legal impediments would be found to stop eventual access to the property.
“We have a valid right to explore and there is nothing in this judgement today that contradicts that in any way,” she said.
The blockade continues while awaiting a decision by Justice Sheahan.