“Garden of Eden next to a hole”: Whitehaven Coal Senior Counsel

Covering the case: Sydney Knitting Nannas

Regional communities thank the Sydney Knitting Nannas for their reportage of the Maules Creek Coal prosecution. Keeping vigil and observing the witnesses and legal argument, Sydney Knitting Nannas have become the modern-day “tricoteuses”, a reference to women who knitted while they observed the revolutionary trials and guillotining during the French Revolution.

Knitting Nannas consist of many retired professional women  and grandmothers committed to climate justice in the name of future generations. Their motto is “saving the land, air and water for the kiddies”. https://knitting-nannas.com/

The final day of the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s prosecution of Maules Creek Coal mine turned uglier as senior barrister Tom Howard singled out by name and mocked community members who had complained about a massive blast which is the subject of criminal charges against the mine. Telling the NSW Land and Environment Court the community’s concerns about the massive blast were no more than “a trembling teacup” that his client Whitehaven Coal should have no regard to, Tom Howard SC’s statements were a testimony as to why people are reluctant to complain about the mine’s infringements if they then face public vilification and ridicule.

Image courtesy of Wando Conservation and Cultural Centre: View of the EPBC-protected Biodiversity Corridor between Maules Creek Coal to the North and the Boggabri Coal mine bottom right corner, January 2016

Maules Creek Coal Pty Ltd is charged with a number of offences related to a 2020 blast which resulted in the neighbouring mine Boggabri Coal, over 2 km away, having to evacuate a working pit crew of around 100 workers in the face of an oncoming blast cloud. Alleged to have injured some workers at the Idemitsu Resources-owned mine, Maules Creek Coal is accused of several breaches of environmental conditions and not blasting competently as per the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

In his closing address on the final day of the sensational prosecution which started in February, the barrister also referred sarcastically to the neighbouring Leard Forest, a Commonwealth-listed Critically Endangered Ecological Community of White Box Grassy Woodland as “Garden of Eden next to a hole”, which he also claimed his client had no responsibility to consider when designing a blast.

The sensational trial resumed on 13th November after Whitehaven launched proceedings in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal against the presiding Judge Her Honour Sarah Pritchard on the ground of apprehended bias. Our report here: https://nwprotectionadvocacy.com/whitehaven-coal-fails-in-court-of-criminal-appeal-to-derail-blasting-prosecutions/

In the February hearing of EPA v Maules Creek Coal Pty Ltd, the Land and Environment Court heard how Boggabri Coal workers experienced painful overpressure impact to their ears and witnessed a cloud of debris approaching before being bussed out of the pit. An Emerald Hill man has commenced proceedings against Maules Creek Coal.

The shot firer from Maules Creek Coal mine stated it was the biggest bang he ever saw.  Nevertheless, Tom Howard SC argued Justice Pritchard should not watch a video of the blast, telling her it was not relevant to the trial. She overruled his objections and the video was played in open Court which shows a massive cloud of dust and debris rise up and cover the White Box Grassy Woodland which is supposed to be protected under the Commonwealth conditions of the Maules Creek mine.

Things continued to sour as the sole witness called on behalf of Whitehaven Coal, a US blasting expert called Dr Cathy Aimone-Martin, who was flown to Australia from New Mexico, became unco-operative. She was told by the Judge “Dr Aimone-Martin you must answer the question”. Mr Howard SC was also reprimanded for being “disrespectful” to the Court. Both of them apologised to the Judge.

Justice Pritchard reserved her judgement for future date. In the meantime, Maules Creek Coal faces a further 16 blasting cases which will be heard under Land and Environment Court Judge Nicola Pain. Collectively called the “fume cases”, they resulted from repeated NO2 fumes which were released at the mine on multiple occasions threatening the health of workers and the local environment of the Leard State Forest and EPBC-protected Biodiversity Corridor.

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