Granting new coal exploration licences and yet extending parliamentary inquiries into coal seam gas and the Hazelwood mine fire has been called a State Government “contradiction”.
Four new coal exploration licences covering close to 500 square kilometres across the Latrobe Valley and South Gippsland have been granted to Western Australian-based Mantle Mining.
It includes the surrounds of Mirboo North, Callignee, Jeeralang and Carrajung.
An additional retention licence has also been granted to Gelliondale Resources following the expiry of an exploration licence near Wilsons Promontory between Yarram and Port Welshpool.
Mirboo North Coal and CSG Free spokeswoman Marg Thomas said the community did not expect the coal licence to be granted considering the State Government had extended its ban on coal seam gas exploration and fracking, pending a Parliamentary inquiry to examine the science and impact of the methods used.
Ms Thomas also referenced the reopening of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry.
“The government says it will protect us from negative impacts, but are also being pushed by mining and industry bodies. They’ve changed their tune to large extent. Now they’re saying we can’t rule out new coal mining,” Ms Thomas said.
“It’s a contradiction all the way through.”
The Mirboo North resident of 35 years said she received a letter in the mail last week from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources notifying her of the coal licence ‘EL5428’ of five years had been granted.
She and some 500 other residents had written their objection to the licence when it was first mooted in an application in May 2012. Mirboo North is a declared ‘Coal and CSG Free’ town, with 96 per cent of the population surveyed by the activist group to be against future mining ventures.
“There’s no social licence for any of this kind of activity, even just exploring,” Ms Thomas said.
“It’s virtually impossible to sell property with a pending licence, it opens the door to mining. There’s a lot of uncertainty for businesses and the town.”
In a statement, Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said granting an exploration licence to someone fulfilling the requirements under existing legislation did not commit the government to a future course of action.
Ms D’Ambrosio said these exploration licences covered low impact activities only and no mining could take place.
“Any intention to move to a mining licence requires full and open community consultation where local residents and other interested parties can have their concerns considered by the regulator in assessing a licence application,” she said.
Environment Victoria safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle said the organisation had been encouraged by the Andrews government’s statements on climate change since they were elected.
“But this move is deeply disappointing and suggests that some parts of the department are still pursuing dirty brown coal export dreams,” Dr Aberle said.
Mantle Mining managing director Ian Kraemer said, as an Australian Stock Exchange company, it was illegal to say anything to the media before receiving formal notification of the licences being granted.
He expected a formal statement would be released today.