The Honorable Bob Debus
NSW Attorney General
Minister for Environment
Member for the Blue Mountains
After the ALP "Bill of Rights" Community Forum in the Katoomba Civic Centre last Saturday 27 May, I was able to get your ear for a few minutes to speak about cyanide transport through the Blue Mountains.
We parted with you promising to have a review prepared.
May these notes serve to frame and inform that review.
Opposition to the Lake Cowal gold mine, despite what your advisers maybe telling you, has increased since its approval and its start up.
Friends of the Earth Australia for example have named it one of their national campaigns.
Last Easter FoE and the Campaign to Protect Lake Cowal gathered some 120 to a Rain Corroboree with local Wiradjuri community at the Lake Cowal mine gates. On Easter Sunday some 80 entered the site and shut the operations down for the day. Eight arrests were made and AAP carried the story nationally and globally.
Easter also saw the launch of the Cyanide Watch campaign which aims to make cyanide crimes and cyanide criminals visible. By targeting cyanide transport the campaign intends to give opposition to cyanide gold mining a broad and highly localized community base in NSW and elsewhere.
In the days after Easter, Cyanide Watch bore witness in West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes and Dubbo and became the news of the week in the south west and west of NSW.
Bottom line: cyanide freight constitutes an inherent hazard for the communities and waterways through which it passes and when people hear about it they feel very uneasy.
Another bottom line: it is about clean water rights of future generations and at a time when water is a concern for many people all across this wide brown land. Note for example the huge interest in the Tim Flannery/ John Archer/Patrice Newell session about water last weekend at the Sydney Writers festival.
On 3 January 2006 the NSW Minister for Planning approved a Hazardous Materials Plan for the Barrick Gold cyanide gold mine at Lake Cowal. The Plan was made public on 28 April, the day the mine officially opened.
The Plan, it was revealed, approved 6090 tonnes of sodium cyanide annually to be shipped from Gladstone where it is manufactured, to Sydney by rail to Chullora, by road through Bankstown and Auburn to Parramatta, by rail over the Blue Mountains to Dubbo, and from Dubbo by road down the Newell Highway to West Wyalong.
None of the communities along this route have ever been consulted about this Plan. As far as I can work out from your response and the response of your adviser, you too were unaware of this Plan both as Minister for the Environment and as Member for the Blue Mountains.
None except maybe West Wyalong and Forbes receives any direct benefit for bearing the risk of a cyanide spill.
And this 6090 tonnes annually is to supply for just one gold mine! Just how much cyanide is approved for transport through the Blue Mountains?
It is sobering to recall the derailment of a cyanide freight train in Condobolin in 1992. The spill of cyanide pellets took three days to clean up and for those three days the town was on "Red Alert" for evacuation. Lucky for them and the Lachlan River it did not rain.
I met with your advisor Scott Cadamatis on Friday 26 May and he explained how he and his mate, Jeff Angel, had been part of the approval process for the Lake Cowal mine. Scott hailed the outcome of their efforts as the "cleanest" gold mine yet and the establishment of the Lake Cowal Foundation as a model for corporate-government collaboration for wetland rehabilitation.
This may be so. But from the view point of many other concerned environmentalists, individuals and organizations, it was the worst thing that he could have done because the approval has opened a door of legitimacy for more cyanide gold mines in wetlands and elsewhere.
At Lake Cowal the ore being worked is just 6 parts in 10 million; 80,000 tonnes of cyanide will win just 850 tonnes of gold. The rising price of gold is making lower grade ores viable for mining. Lower grade ores mean bigger pits, more cyanide on the road, more cyanide accidents and more permanently poisoned water.
It gets worse from here.
It would be a delusion to think that opposition to cyanide transports and cyanide gold mining will not diminish because the NSW Government chooses to ignore it.
Be assured that the candidates in the next contest for your Blue Mountain's seat will not be able to ignore it. Cyanide Watch will be there to remind them at every public appearance.
And talking of reminders, remember how passionately you defended Lake Cowal back in 1996. Once were warriors, hey? www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LA19960502033
And here is another link of interest, a report by Charles Davies describing Barrick Gold's operations globally and called "So big it's brutal", published in the The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Friday, May 26, 2006 www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060525.rmbarr0525/BNStory/specialROBmagazine/home?pageRequested=all&print=true
Rest assured that we are determined to make the Barrick Gold's Lake Cowal mine, the last cyanide gold mine to start up in NSW.
May it bleed money till it dies.
May you be well and happy.