The Clarence Catchment Alliance (CCA) describes itself as a group of “locals coming together to protect country, our waterways, culture and way of life – we oppose open cut mining in our water catchment area”.
The group is nearing its 10,000-signature target for a petition it intends to lodge with the NSW Government.
The Independent put a series of questions to CCA representative Shae Fleming.
Ms Fleming responded with written answers via email; the following is an edited version of her responses.
Independent: What are your group’s thoughts regarding Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis’s assertion that exploration does not necessarily lead to actual mining?
Shae Fleming: To say it’s just exploratory is a head in the sand approach; a bit ‘look away nothing to see here’, but we as a community can’t be complacent.
We fail to see why companies would spend millions of dollars to just ‘explore’ without the potential aim to mine.
To assume also that “an exploration licence is really minimally invasive” is naïve; it fails to recognise the true impact of mining exploration.
We have documented and acknowledged evidence of the damage exploration can do. In 2018 after the CCA and CEC [Clarence Environment Centre] questioned environmental compliance and reported Castillo Copper in Cangai to the resource regulators, they were indeed found, on inspection Nov 22, 2018, to have ‘a number of serious compliance issues’.
Human error in a water catchment area is just too risky; mining applications are approved without strict enough analysis in delicate areas because ‘it is just exploratory’.
I: Why doesn’t your group trust that if mining goes ahead that it will have to meet ‘social, economic and environmental requirements’; therefore protecting the river and managing any threat to the valley’s biodiversity?
SF: We wonder why the three [things] mentioned [by Mr Gulaptis] aren’t considered prior to allowing exploration: if it’s so carefully considered, why not before everyone wastes their time, energy and money if it’s not going to be approved?
The CCA doesn’t trust that if mining goes ahead that it will have to meet ‘social, economic and environmental requirements’ … because of … issues like Castillo at Cangai.
…We are concerned also with the lack of community consultation, and, in fact, the confusion surrounding mixed messages in public company reports.
We don’t trust the process because of [failures at] other approved projects in this country…
The Baal Gammon mine, [where the miner was fined $120,000] for river contamination.
The Cadia Gold Mine, which is another tailings dam failure.
[More recently] in the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge and Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
I: Can your group provide some practical (and preferably recent) examples of failures in Australia, where mining similar to that proposed in the catchment has caused an environmental disaster?
SF: No short term gain can outweigh the long term consequences and potential impact on our water systems.
…If our water is poisoned, no perceived potential upsides to mining here will be worth it; poisoned water will see the end of our prawning, fishing, tourism and agri-food industries that bring in millions of dollars to this area annually.
We don’t agree with mining in this area due to incidents like these: ABC: ‘Whim Creek copper mine faces questions’, Aug 2019; Tasmania’s polluted King and Queen rivers – ABC: ‘Queenstown locals say mine leakage has turned Queen River into ‘Pumpkin Soup Creek’’ Nov 2017; ABC: ‘Pump crews work at abandoned silver mine to keep toxic spill out of Murray-Darling Basin’, Aug 2016; and, Newcastle Herald: ‘Hunter Valley Operations to pay $400,000 after alleged water pollution from mine last year’, May 2020.
I: Mr Gulaptis asserts that if we stopped mining in the valley that it would be akin to ‘closing down the whole country’; so if mining is too dangerous for the catchment where should it be conducted, taking into account that there could/would be many places where similar environmental threats would have to be addressed to allow mining to go ahead?
SF: The CCA and our community aren’t naïve; we know mining occurs and the necessity for minerals; we use technology and know that many end products rely on them.
Our group and the thousands of supporters we have aren’t fanatical.
We are intelligent, aware, and open minded enough to recognise both sides of this argument.
But we are not buying the political spin, the green-washing by some companies, nor leaving this to chance in the ‘mining game’.
Our views are varied, as would be expected in a group of many different types of people from a cross section of the community.
Some see mining as essential, just not in delicate areas such as water catchments, some see mining as a process best superseded and replaced by other developing technologies.
Like many of man’s modern processes, they are unsustainable…
There are better ways, newer processes, more innovative solutions and alternatives being developed, yes, but for now with the way extraction is, what we are asking as a group is that mining does not occur in delicate areas such as the Clarence Valley.
We ask that our water is protected, and we ask that mining applications are more carefully and more rigorously considered before they are approved, to avoid the waste of time and money associated with that.
I: Does your group agree that electric cars are part of the mix when it comes to adopting more renewable energy sources? Please qualify your yes or no answer.
As we all have varying views on this … to come up with one consensus on this from the CCA goes against all that’s so good about the group and its unwritten ethos.
We are a broad cross section of our community and we are a non-partisan.
[We are comprised] of many ages, backgrounds and political persuasions; so one view is not our aim. We are all heard and respected; we are all-inclusive.
There are pros and cons for all innovation, emerging technologies, industrial design and manufacture.
I: Mr Gulaptius points out the perceived hypocrisy of people objecting to ‘progress’ that involves native timber logging and the consumption and or use of material objects that are manufactured using non-sustainable energy sources, things like phones, computers, surfboards and the like. And similarly, there are dogmatic criticisms from climate change deniers that accuse campaigners of gross hypocrisy because they fly in or drive, for example, vehicles that rely on non-renewable sources that contribute significant greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – how does your group address this conundrum?
SF: Well the old saying, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, pops to mind.
We are all just doing our best from a place of love and care for each other; our culture, our valley and planet.
Like many, we are learning as we go to recognise old ways aren’t always the best, learning to do things better with less impact: use less, reuse, buy local, grow our own food, find alternatives, offset where we can.
Again, we are just a group of concerned locals asking that our home is looked out for, and that our delicate environment and waterways are acknowledged as integral to our social, cultural, economic and environmental health.
I’d like to acknowledge the hard work the CCA members put in Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl nations, with whom we are liaising and the community for their continued and growing support.