Boost for Wollar protesters as Wilpinjong Extension Project begins

Bev Smiles (left) and chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office Sue Higginson, outside Mudgee Local Court.
Bev Smiles (left) and chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office Sue Higginson, outside Mudgee Local Court.

Mining has commenced in the Wilpinjong Extension Project (WEP) areas, which went to public hearing before the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) earlier this year.

In August the company received the final approval for the WEP from the Australian Government (EPBC approval).

Construction commenced last month on the project, which will see peak employment of approximately 625 jobs. Wilpinjong general manager, Blair Jackson, said the project is “all progressing well”.

“That was the final stages, once the PAC has finished their report they issue the final approval then there are certain steps that we then have to put in place before mining can commence,” he said. “We’ve met all those criteria now and mining has commenced in the WEP areas. We’ve kicked off and we’re letting out some of the contracts now and extended the mine life out past 2033.”

The day after the PAC hearing Bev Smiles, Stephanie Luke and Bruce Hughes were arrested for blocking the mine entrance and became the first people charged under anti-protest laws introduced by the NSW government last year.

A High Court decision recently found that similar laws in Tasmania were unconstitutional, which could have ramifications for the local trio. 

In September their case was listed for hearing in February to await the outcome of the High Court challenge.

Smiles told Fairfax Media that she hoped the decision would cause the government to "seriously look at the amendments they made to the Crimes Act with the aim of preventing the fundamental right to protest".

Sue Higginson, chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office, which is representing the trio, said it was "early days" but that the judgment looked "quite favourable" for her clients.

The EDO has asked two senior counsel for advice on the judgment to inform its decision whether to launch a High Court challenge to the NSW laws.