CATE FAEHRMANN [6.00 p.m.]: Today I draw the attention of the House to the threat posed to the Gardens of Stone, an area that is recognised by New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service as the next reservation priority in the Blue Mountains Conservation Area. This area is threatened by a part 3A development application for the expansion and integration of mining operations at the Cullen Valley by Invincible Collieries. The application proposes to create an open-cut coal mine with a perimeter of 40 kilometres in the publicly owned Ben Bullen State Forest. The project is not yet on exhibition but the Director General’s Requirements for environmental assessment have been issued.
On Saturday 14 May I had the opportunity to visit this area of incredible heritage value. It is surrounded by unique stone pagodas, which are rock pinnacles created by ironstone bands etched from the Burramoko sandstone, which crops out only in the western Blue Mountains. The Gardens of Stone is a unique natural landscape with abundant biodiversity in its gentle grassy woodlands and hanging swamps. The region also contains a wealth of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage. Part of the Gardens of Stone has the status of national park, as granted by a former Liberal-Nationals Government. The Coalition must build on this to ensure the wider protection that has previously been deemed necessary.
If approved, the expansion would require the clear felling of an area the size of 2,176 football fields of the Ben Bullen State Forest. This includes 196 hectares containing Capertee stringybark, which is listed as “vulnerable”, and 40 hectares of Box-Gum woodland, which is listed as “critically endangered” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The project will destroy the habitat of the Regent Honeyeater, Tiger Quoll and Powerful Owl and at least 32 threatened native animals, five of which are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. An area of such ecological and cultural importance as the Gardens of Stone should be reserved within the parks system, not laid waste by an open-cut coal mine.
To understand how totally destructive open-cut coalmining is to our environment, one must appreciate the process. First, bulldozers scalp all the biodiversity from the forest or woodland. Then all the soil and underlying geology is torn away—this is described as “overburden”. This overburden is then heaped up into piles on the rim of the open mine pit. The creation of a pit drastically lowers the local water table, which then acts as a sump, starving streams of fresh water. The overburden then exudes salts and metals after rain for decades with potentially devastating consequences downstream. The toxic runoff from the waste piles is not diluted as the previous natural inflows are now captured by the mine pit, so that stream ecology is destroyed for many kilometres downstream.
The proposed mining is expected to produce up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal per year. Highwall and longwall mining will compromise the integrity of the pagodas, potentially resulting in partial or total collapse and severely impacting their geological and biological values and that of adjoining land. This includes destroying the habitat of the lyrebird, which uses the sides of the pagoda to nest and raise its young. Mining will also strip the protective pathways used by adult birds foraging between nesting sites, and it will destroy their food habitats within the more fertile valley floors. The community of the Blue Mountains is well aware of the impacts of open-cut coal and longwall coal mining. Areas of the Gardens of Stone have already been damaged forever. Longwall mining beneath pagodas has resulted in subsidence, sometimes resulting in their fracturing and total collapse—these majestic pagodas, which have been there for millions of years, destroyed forever by such a short-sighted activity. I have personally witnessed such a collapse.
To give members a sense of how shameful it is that we have let this happen on our watch, it can be likened to allowing longwall coal mining under the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains and standing back while these marvellous natural heritage icons crumble and fall away. Subsidence also causes the draining of headwater streams, detrimental alterations to surface water chemistry, the deterioration of nationally significant and endangered upland swamps and widespread surface cracking. In most cases this damage has not been remediated, even if it were possible. There are grave concerns about Coalpac’s environmental record as it has been fined on 11 occasions for pollution incidents, and has also been fined $200,000 for exceeding coal production limits. Approval of this project will raise questions as to what will be the impact on the Turon River and the greater Murray-Darling Basin.
The Colong Foundation for Wilderness and the Blue Mountains Conservation Society have been tirelessly campaigning for the area covered by the Coalpac consolidation to be reserved within the parks system. The development threats to the Gardens of Stone’s real value, its scenery, geodiversity and biodiversity, can only be effectively addressed through reservation. Such reservation will preserve a range of ecosystems from upland swamps to grassy woodlands, provide a conservation corridor, and protect a diverse range of flora and fauna. I urge the Government to stick to its election promise of creating new national parks by taking action to reserve the Gardens of Stone and rejecting the application by Coalpac, which will destroy it forever.
Cate has given notice of the below motion.
Ms Faehrmann to move—
1. That this House notes that:
(a) the Gardens of Stone is an area of unique ecological and biodiversity value, characterised by unique stone pagodas created by ironstone bands etched from the Burramoko Sandstone which crops out only in the western Blue Mountains,
(b) the Gardens of Stone contains a wealth of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage,
(c) the Gardens of Stone is recognised as the next reservation priority in the Blue Mountains Conservation Area by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service,
(d) the Gardens of Stone is currently threatened by a development application under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for the expansion and integration of mining operations at the Cullen Valley and Invincible Collieries,
(e) if approved, the expansion would require the clear felling of 1088 hectares of the Ben Bullen State Forest, including 196 hectares containing Capertee Stringybark which is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and 40 hectares of Box Gum Woodland listed as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,
(f) the project will destroy the habitat of the Regent Honeyeater, Tiger Quoll and Powerful Owl and at least 32 threatened native animals, 5 of which are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,
(g) the development will destroy the habitat of the Lyrebird which uses the sides of the pagoda to nest and raise its young,
(h) mining will also strip the protective pathways used by adult birds foraging between nesting sites and will destroy their food habitats within the more fertile valley floors,
(i) longwall mining is listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995,
(j) longwall mining beneath pagodas has resulted in subsidence, their fracturing and collapse, the draining of headwater streams, detrimental alterations to surface water chemistry, the deterioration of nationally significant and endangered upland swamps and widespread surface cracking, and
(k) Coalpac has been fined on eleven occasions for pollution incidents and has also been fined $200,000 for exceeding coal production limits.
2. That this House calls on the Government to:
(a) reject Coalpac’s Part 3A application for the expansion and integration of mining operations at the Cullen Valley and Invincible Collieries, and
(b) declare the Gardens of Stone a National Park.
(Notice given 26 May 2011)