Bathurst Community Climate Action Network has pledged support for one of its members, Stephanie Luke, who was arrested last week during a protest against the expansion of the Wilpinjong coal mine.
BCCAN President Tracy Sorensen said that the world was rapidly shifting away from coal in an effort to combat rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. She said it did not make economic or environmental sense to open new coal mines or extend existing ones.
“Stephanie has no prior convictions, but she was willing to risk severe penalties to make a stand for social justice and the environment,” Ms Sorensen said. “We are standing behind her.”
The mine, owned by Peabody Energy, is encroaching on the village of Wollar near Mudgee. Noise and dust from the mine has forced 90 per cent of residents of the village to leave. The state government has admitted that recently-approved extensions to the mine will entirely destroy the village.
Last Wednesday (April 12), as a part of a group of about 30 people, Ms Luke held a large banner saying Enough is Enough across the main access road into the mine. She was one of three who refused to move on when asked to do so by police. She was arrested along with Bev Smiles, convener of the Central West Environment Council (CWEC) and Bruce Hughes, a Wollar village resident.
The three are due to appear in court in Mudgee on Wednesday May 17. Each is facing two charges: “Interfering with a mine” under the Crimes Act plus “Obstructing traffic” under the Road Rules Act.
“Interfering with a mine” is a new crime introduced by the state government in February in the wake of a wave of protests against the Maules Creek coal mine near Boggabri. Ms Luke, Ms Smiles and Mr Hughes are the first three people to be charged under the new legislation. Maximum penalties include fines of over $5000 and jail time of up to seven years.
BCCAN made the decision to support Ms Luke and the other two arrested people at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Ms Smiles said she was willing to go to jail to defend the remaining residents of the village of Wollar.