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Pram protest against colliery expansion highlights ‘duty of care’ to children

Monday’s pram protest at Russell Vale Colliery

OVER 50 children’s prams lined the driveway of the Russell Vale Mine on Monday morning as a protest demonstration against the expansion of the colliery.

The concerned Illawarra mothers, fathers and grandparents accompanying the prams were protesting Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s approval of the expansion of the Russell Vale Colliery.

Along with a series of other coal projects, federal environment minister Sussan Ley approved the expansion of mining operations at the site in September, despite a Federal Court ruling that the state owes future generations “duty of care” over climate change. On Monday Minister Ley began a legal appeal to the court decision.

Environmental activists from the Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance (ICJA) opposes the expansion of the Russell Vale mine’s operations, citing the need to transition rapidly away from a fossil-fuel based economy by 2030 in order to avoid the effects of severe climate change.

Wollongong Coal plan to extract 3.7 million tonnes of coal from under the Greater Sydney water catchment over the next five years.

ICJA warns the longwall mining underneath the Greater Sydney water catchment poses a serious risk to drinking water for 5 million people. The group says the transportation of coal through residential areas also risks coal dust pollution, raising fears that air quality will decrease for locals.

Participants in the peaceful protest believe Minister Ley’s approval of three coal mines in just one month is a snub to the 80 per cent of Australians who support greater action on climate change and to world leaders meeting in two weeks to reduce global greenhouse emissions.

Thirroul resident and pram protestor Francis Vierboom said as a father he is worried that when his two children reach his age, they’ll be starting families in a world with more bushfires, floods and droughts.

“I want my kids to grow up in a thriving economy with local job opportunities, and that means getting a just transition underway in the Illawarra and all over Australia,” Mr Vierboom said.

“If we kick it off now we could be a renewable energy superpower by 2050, but if we keep opening coal mines instead we’ll be left behind.

“Don’t take it from me – this is what mining giants like Twiggy Forrest think, it’s what the Business Council of Australia, it’s what the Reserve Bank thinks, and apparently even Rupert Murdoch agrees now.

“The whole world has woken up, but our own environment minister has the audacity to appeal her responsibility to protect our environment and our kids’ futures.”

Monday’s creative confrontation, the prams lining the entrance to the mine also featured a two metre high photo of Minister Ley cradling coal in her arms.

Wollongong Coal have said in a statement that environmental and social studies for a revised mine plan commenced in 2017, with a detailed round of engagement undertaken with key stakeholders and local residents.

“The revised mine plan has been developed in response to government and community concerns regarding the potential environmental and social impacts of the project,” a spokesperson said in the statement.

“In particular, concerns regarding potential subsidence related impacts of mining on groundwater, surface water and biodiversity, as well as noise impacts on the local community.”

Wollongong Coal said key project changes include use of non-caving first workings mining methods with negligible subsidence and environmental impacts – longwall mining is no longer proposed; a reduced production rate and substantial redesign of the Russell Vale Pit Top to reduce noise impacts on the local community, as well as improve surface water management.


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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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