Will the Higher Hunter’s ‘theatre of coal’ evoke an encore?


Fifth-generation farmers Doug and Nic Robertson are out mustering a few of the 300 breeder cattle on their property close to Scone on a crisp mid-autumn morning, questioning how lengthy their rural idyll can final.

Nic Robertson joins her husband Doug, with their horse Hamish, as they muster cattle on their property close to Scone. Credit score:Janie Barrett

Plans by Japanese buying and selling big Idemitsu to develop its Gateway venture north-west of Muswellbrook within the Higher Hunter would carry an open-cut coal pit proper subsequent door.

“They are going to actually be out the again from us,” Robertson says after dismounting Hamish his horse and becoming a member of Nic for a espresso inside their elegant dwelling Turanville. “That’s of concern for us and our youngsters.”

The problem of the area’s coal mines and their enlargement has been thrust onto centre stage by the byelection triggered after the resignation final month of disgraced Nationals MP Michael Johnsen. The MP stop after the leak of lewd texts he despatched throughout parliamentary debates simply days after being accused of raping a intercourse employee.

There’s a lot at stake within the Could 22 byelection. A lack of the long-held Nationals’ seat would throw the Berejiklian authorities into minority rule. Because the Higher Hunter voters can be dwelling to a few of Australia’s greatest coal mines, the jockeying by the key events on power and local weather insurance policies may additionally function a template for each the subsequent federal and state elections.

Thus far, the Liberal-Nationwide Coalition and Labor campaigns have prioritised coal, with NSW Nationwide Occasion chief John Barilaro selling it as a “eternally” trade and Labor chief Jodi McKay dubbing it “the powerhouse of the financial system of the state” and one which shouldn’t be “demonised”.

However the election additionally offers an opportunity for native points to be aired together with the lack of prime farmland to mines, the area’s ongoing air-pollution and associated well being points, and the local weather dangers of extracting fossil fuels.

For example, Robertson, who chairs the Pals of the Higher Hunter group, obtained to boost his issues concerning the speedy enlargement of coal mines to Deputy Premier Barilaro at a pub occasion in Muswellbrook on Wednesday night time.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro discusses coal mining with Doug Robertson (right), a farmer and president of the Friends of the Upper Hunter group.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro discusses coal mining with Doug Robertson (proper), a farmer and president of the Pals of the Higher Hunter group.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Robertson tells the Solar-Herald he was stunned at how receptive Barilaro was: “His language was very totally different to what we hear from him on the media stage”.

Kirsty O’Connell, additionally a member of the Pals of the Higher Hunter, credit former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s name for a moratorium on new coal mines in NSW for stirring curiosity within the situation despite the fact that it price him his week-old appointment as chief local weather advisor to the Berejiklian authorities. “It’s due to Malcolm Turnbull that this topic’s being mentioned.”

The equal of six Adani-sized coal mines are deliberate for inside a couple of kilometres of Muswellbrook, O’Connell says, though the controversy has had nothing like the eye given to the Indian miner’s plan for the controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland.

Kirsty O’Connell, a member of the Friends of the Upper Hunter, says the issue of new coal mines in the region needs more scrutiny.

Kirsty O’Connell, a member of the Pals of the Higher Hunter, says the problem of recent coal mines within the area wants extra scrutiny.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Georgina Woods, the co-ordinator of Lock the Gate – a bunch that campaigns for a transition out of coal – predicts some voters will tire of the pantomime of politics particularly if the present fails to deal with the exhausting questions the valley faces.

“The theatre of coal performs for a Sydney viewers and a nationwide viewers, nevertheless it’s successfully squeezing out discussions concerning the critical strategic, environmental and financial points going through the Higher Hunter,” Woods says.

“We do want the federal government to be planning for the sudden closure of mines and making clear it’ll assist staff, communities and the area by means of that.”

Labor supporters, too, say politicians blithely insisting on the continuing dominance of coal doesn’t correlate with the conversations round staff’ dinner tables and inside their unions.

“The rhetoric in New Zealand could be very totally different,” says Stuart Johnstone, a former miner who spent 15 years throughout the Tasman in a maritime union earlier than returning to the Hunter two years in the past. “Right here it appears to be arrange very combatively.”

The polarisation, he says, is like one particular person taking an excessive place on one facet of a ship and forcing one other to steadiness it out on the alternative facet to keep away from it sinking. “We’ve really obtained to return to the centre of the boat, and really be mature, and have that dialogue moderately than demonise one over the opposite,” he says.

Labor’s candidate for the Upper Hunter, Jeff Drayton, centre, talks with Sarah Johnstone and her brother Stuart in Singleton.

Labor’s candidate for the Higher Hunter, Jeff Drayton, centre, talks with Sarah Johnstone and her brother Stuart in Singleton.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Stuart’s sister Sarah is a Labor department secretary for Singleton and attended Tuesday’s launch social gathering for Labor’s candidate Jeff Drayton – a coal miner and former deputy mayor of Muswellbrook – in an area park. She says the neighborhood recognises the adjustments chopping coal’s domination are inevitable: “The issue is we don’t know the way lengthy it will take to get right here.”


“Till individuals can see the sensible adjustments and see the roles in entrance of them, when they’re given concern techniques by politicians or the media, or enterprise they consider [them],” she says.

A minimum of two candidates will make a case to voters towards coal. Higher Hunter councillor Sue Abbott is the Greens candidate and former Dungog mayor Tracy Norman is operating as an Impartial.

Abbott says most of her rivals should not telling the reality about the way forward for coal mining within the area.

“It’s so dishonest of the opposite candidates and the Coalition to faux we’ll have coal for many years and many years,” she says. “I really feel like Cordelia to King Lear [in Shakespeare], telling him how it’s and he can’t deal with it.”

The Mount Pleasant mine, far left, and Bengalla mine, right, with the town of Muswellbrook in the distance.

The Mount Nice mine, far left, and Bengalla mine, proper, with the city of Muswellbrook within the distance.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Norman says these searching for to win the seat “should be speaking about transitioning to a brand new low-carbon financial system”.

“Pure economics goes to drive this and the remainder of the world is definitely trending away from coal,” the heiress of the Norman’s share of Harvey Norman, says. “We have now an ethical accountability to verify these coal miners can transition” as a result of someday the market will collapse, leaving them in a “dreadful state of affairs”.

BHP’s Mount Arthur coal mine in Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter.

BHP’s Mount Arthur coal mine in Muswellbrook within the Higher Hunter.Credit score:Janie Barrett

For its half, the Minerals Council declines to supply forecasts for coal. The trade foyer group additionally tends to downplay the 2023 scheduled closure of AGL’s Liddell energy plant, one of many Higher Hunter’s two coal-fired energy stations. Neighbouring Bayswater, owned by the identical firm, is slated to close by 2035.

As a substitute, it touts the continuing success of the coal export trade with shipments hovering close to report ranges of about 160 million tonnes yearly since 2014.

It says the Higher Hunter seat has a complete mining workforce of 7320, there are 1079 native companies supplying the trade and direct spending of some $1.8 billion within the native financial system.

Tony O’Driscoll of Newgate Stud Farm and Hunter Thoroughbred Association president Cameron Collins with stallion North Pacific.

Tony O’Driscoll of Newgate Stud Farm and Hunter Thoroughbred Affiliation president Cameron Collins with stallion North Pacific.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Coal, although, will not be with out deep-pocketed objectors, such because the valley’s thoroughbred breeding trade. It says it contributes some $2.6 billion to the NSW financial system, with 470 breeders and 5745 staff and what it calls “individuals”.


“Extra coal mining may spell the top of agriculture within the Higher Hunter,” Cameron Collins, president of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders’ Affiliation, says as he leaves a paddock on the Newgate Stud Farm close to Scone containing champion racer and now extremely sought-after sire, Capitalist. “Each of the large events have stated they’ll shield us, however they haven’t.”

Collins says the federal government’s declaration of the area as one of many world’s three main horse breeding areas hasn’t stopped them approving one big coal mine after one other.

“They’re getting nearer to us and the mines are getting greater and larger,” he says. “It’s fairly horrifying.”

Furthermore, the uncertainty of additional mines means homeowners are already starting to shift investments elsewhere, corresponding to to Victoria and New Zealand, curbing different job openings to mining.

Some readability no less than could come on April 24 for the proposed mine closest to the Newgate stud, Dartbrook, close to the city of Aberdeen.

BHP’s Mt Arthur coal mine close to Mussellbrook.Credit score:Janie Barrett

The Land and Atmosphere Courtroom is scheduled to listen to arguments involving whether or not Australian Pacific Coal (APC), proprietor of the underground coal mine, can lengthen its allow to dig 6 million tonnes of coal a 12 months till 2027.

Dartbrook has been dormant since 2006 after a number of deaths, with possession since passing from former billionaire Nathan Tinkler to APC who’re reportedly in “dire monetary straits”.

The destiny of one other deliberate coal mine within the Higher Hunter could also be identified inside weeks with the Impartial Planning Fee scheduled to provide its verdict on the Mangoola mine extension. Mining big Glencore needs to increase the lifetime of the mine to 2030 and extract 52 million extra tonnes of coal.

For Margot and Michael White, the Mangoola extension would carry the mine, which is 5 kilometres from their Wybong property, to half that distance, and sure worsen the mud that repeatedly coats the rooms of their home and contaminates their water tanks.

“We lie right here,” Margot says as she vacuums grit from a bedside lamp. “It’s scary while you see what we breathe.”

Margot White vacuums coal dust from a bedside lamp that she says has collected there for the past month.

Margot White vacuums coal mud from a bedside lamp that she says has collected there for the previous month. Credit score:Janie Barrett

The Whites are accustomed to mining. Michael labored for BHP for nearly 25 years earlier than retiring in 2014 after serving as head of the large Mt Arthur coal mine that looms over Muswellbrook.

Margot additionally speaks of the “Gates of Hell” they must drive by means of to get to Muswellbrook, with mines on either side of street.

“It’s given me an amazing life,” Michael says, including that the dimensions of mining has grown enormously over the past 20 years. “We didn’t have the urgency of local weather change,” he says. “That’s the factor that terrifies me.”

A few of these sentiments resonate with a present coal miner at one of many space’s huge mines. Underscoring the sensitivity of the problems, the miner requested that his id and office not be revealed.

A coal miner, who requested anonymity, says it will be difficult to replace the lucrative mining jobs in the region. Even so, the industry is not so popular within his own family.

A coal miner, who requested anonymity, says it will likely be tough to switch the profitable mining jobs within the area. Even so, the trade will not be so in style inside his family.Credit score:Janie Barrett

He says coal mining had allowed to remain within the area after drought and different challenges made his farm work not viable.

“If we didn’t have mining, we wouldn’t have survived on the farm,” he advised the Herald. “Farming is such a tough factor.”

An annual wage of about $150,000 can be tough to match for somebody “with no abilities apart from a farmer”. Related council jobs could pay only a third of his wages due to the dearth of weekend penalty charges and different loading.

A 20 year-old, in the meantime, can rake in $100,000 “some huge cash for a teenager”, he says.

The miner, although, is acutely aware that his work has its detractors, with two of their kids taking “a view of the mining trade that’s completely totally different” due to its contribution to local weather change.

“We have now to remind them that what’s placing them by means of uni … it’s coming from what he’s doing,” his spouse says.

“Discussions on the desk get fairly heated,” she says. “We attempt to keep away from [the subject], which is unhappy.”

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