For ten years the residents of Wollar have been battling the toxic environment created by mining giant Wilpinjong Coal, owned by Peabody Coal, USA.
During this time Wilpinjong has turned a deaf ear to any attempt by the Wollar community to negotiate with the mine to mitigate its damage to the local environment. The last straw was when Wilpinjong was granted an extension enabling the expansion of the mine to within one point five kilometres of Wollar.
Facing the prospect of the destruction of their town because of the mine extension, the citizens of Wollar united under the banner of “enough is enough”.
To reinforce this message, 35 members of the Wollar community staged a peaceful protest at the mine gate. The result of this action was the arrest and charging of Bev Smiles, Stephanie Luke and Bruce Hughes.
The trio was to be the first to be tried under the NSW anti-protest laws which were passed into legislation by the then Baird Government in 2016.
On June 5, ironically World Environment Day, Magistrate David Day dismissed the charges against Ms. Smiles, Mr. Hughes and Ms. Luke on the two charges relating to the anti protest laws and dismissing the charge of obstructing traffic.
All three have been placed on one year good behaviour bonds, with no criminal convictions recorded. Although the announcement was greeted with jubilation by the packed gallery of supporters, Council for the three warned that the laws under which they were charged are very much “live.”
These anti protest laws have been condemned by environmental groups and many members of the legal profession. There is great concern that this legislation will have the effect of impinging on the rights of individuals and groups to engage in peaceful protest.
Bev Smiles, Stepanie Luke and Bruce Hughes were engaging in peaceful protest, yet found themselves threatened with a seven year jail sentence. The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in civilised democratic society.
These laws will have the effect of inhibiting legitimate protest, which is no doubt their purpose. Like the Wollar three we all have the right to protest to protect our homes and our environment. This unjust undemocratic legislation must be repealed.