Dawn Heath and Leeanne Undery, founders of the Southern Downs Protection Group, hosted the meeting.
Dawn Heath and Leeanne Undery, founders of the Southern Downs Protection Group, hosted the meeting.

Region fights for its rights

TEN years ago the township of Acland, situated less than two hours from Warwick, had a population of 300 but since the establishment of an open cut coalmine just 2km from the centre, it has been reduced to a one-man town.

A meeting at the Warwick Cowboys clubhouse on Saturday heard as the mining company applies for stage three of its permit, Oakey residents are now looking nervously over the hills in fear of what an expansion could mean for their homes, health and lifestyle.

“Don’t allow mining to gain a foothold in your region as it has in ours,” Peter Faulkner from Oakey Coal Action Alliance told the crowd of 50 or so at the meeting.

“You’ve got to stop it before it starts.

“You can’t turn back the clock once it begins.”

The meeting was organised by the newly formed Southern Downs Protection Group as a response to news the region was under application for a permit for coal exploration.

The group, as of Saturday, consisted of only two local women, Dawn Heath and Leeanne Undery, but following the range of inspirational speakers and the call for interested locals to form a committee, membership looks certain to grow.

With one-fifth of Queensland covered by exploration leases, it’s no surprise there’s an application for a permit for coal exploration in the Southern Downs.

What is of concern is the 400sq km area, which covers the Warwick city centre, and the fact that, despite being submitted in 2008, the Southern Downs Regional Council has only just become aware of its existence.

While the Southern Downs isn’t in immediate danger, the message from our food bowl neighbours who have been battling the mining companies and government is clear – we must be educated.

This need is fairly urgent as the Government has launched a survey, entitled Exploration and Urban Living: Striking the balance, which closes on September 16.

At the moment there is a 2km buffer zone, which means mining cannot be undertaken within the proximity of a township with more than 1000 people.

“But that rules out Allora and Killarney,” Jim Wiltshire of Toowoomba Coal Mine Action Group told the meeting.

Mr Wiltshire, who is a former Warwick resident, said he was sad to hear his old stomping ground could be subject to a similar plight as his new home in Gowrie Junction.

For fellow guest speaker Heather Brown, a journalist of more than 20 years with The Australian, an Anzac Day service in Acland compelled her to join what is described as a “grassroots revolution”.

She told the meeting how standing by the Acland memorial, which could be moved should the mining company obtain permission to mine in the town itself, observing the traditional silence, she became aware of the thundering of trucks still working through the ceremony.

She said the lack of respect made her realise it was all about money and from there it was “game on”.

Mr Faulkner said, in his research, mining catapulted rent prices in surrounding towns, lowered property values and put health costs through the roof.

“We’re not anti-mining,” he said. “It has its place but open cut mines shouldn’t be established next to communities.”

Rob McCreath from Friends of Felton argued that, especially in the food bowl, mining should be prohibited, but the Government’s strategic cropping land legislation had been watered down too significantly to protect the land.

Representing the other side of the argument, some business owners attended the meeting to hear about the potential benefits of the mining boom, but Saturday’s speakers were cynical about any economic benefit.

The Southern Downs application, lodged by Altera Resources Limited, covers an area which stretches from Dalveen to Allan to Yangan to the Eight Mile and includes Warwick itself.

The government has said the success rate of mining explorations is about 1%, and a whole new set of procedures kicked in if an exploration company decided to mine.

However, Mr Wiltshire argued this was a historic figure and the success rate was fast increasing.

“These companies are looking for financial reward,” he said.

“There is no reason for them to explore without the possibility of future gain.”

Coal has been found in this region and while it is considered low quality at the moment, in 20 to 30 years it could be a different story.

Southern Downs councillor Cameron Gow said the region has some of the best agricultural land in the country. Though mining could have economic benefits, he said that land must be protected.

It was Cr Gow who brought the issue to the attention of councillors a couple of months ago and suggested council organise an information session, although Mayor Ron Bellingham said council would not facilitate such a meeting.

Councillors Gow, Vic Pennisi and Neil Meiklejohn attended Saturday’s meeting.

The State Government survey can be accessed at mines.industry.qld.gov.au/mining/exploration-urban-living-balance.htm.

The Southern Downs Protection Group has a Facebook page and can be contacted by emailing sdpg@live.com.au.

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