Media release: Crowdfunding campaign sends Bulga locals to confront mining giant Rio Tinto at its AGM

Three local residents from the historic town of Bulga in the New South Wales Hunter Valley are set to bring their campaign opposing Rio Tinto’s coal mine expansion at Mt Thorley Warkworth directly to the company’s AGM in Brisbane on Thursday.

This follows a record crowdfunding effort led by financial activist group Market Forces which took less than 24 hours to raise enough money to cover the trio’s expenses.

Robert and AnneMaree McLaughlin, and Judith Leslie belong to the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association (BMPA) which has been the voice of the community for over 30 years and which in 2010 appealed the expansion of the Mt Thorley Warkworth mine.

“The NSW Government has left us high and dry,” said AnneMaree McLaughlin. “So this week we’re taking the battle to Brisbane to make it plain to the Rio Tinto management, board and shareholders what a horror story this mine is for local residents.”

“Although Bulga is a beautiful village it is being wrecked by mining,” said Robert McLaughlin. “Our homes and properties are now worthless, we can’t drink our water without first having to filter out coal dust and we can’t sleep at night for the noise of this mine that operates 24/7 all year round.

“Shareholders need to know what Rio Tinto is doing to our town, its people and their environment.”

The campaign to defend their town of Bulga is now in its sixth year as Rio Tinto attempts to expand their mining operation further. Bulga residents have successfully challenged Rio Tinto in the NSW Land & Environment Court, and subsequently in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal.

However in November 2015, the NSW Planning Assessment Committee again approved the expansion, clearing the way for Rio Tinto to expand regardless of the court ruling. A new appeal is currently underway against this decision.

The crowdfunding effort was organised by financial activist group Market Forces.

“We wanted to bring some of the courageous people of Bulga to the Rio AGM to show the effect coal mining is having on people’s lives,” said Market Forces Executive Director Julien Vincent. “But importantly, we also want to highlight that this mine makes no economic sense. Shareholders have the right to know the risk Rio is taking whilst threatening an historic village like Bulga.”

In recent years Rio Tinto has been actively reducing their exposure to coal, as analysts and investment banks declare thermal coal in structural decline. The sale of its Mozambican coal assets in 2014 cost the company almost $4 billion, while Rio’s firesale continued in the Hunter Valley last summer with the $606 million sale of its 40% stake in the Bengalla coal mine and the sale of Mt Pleasant coal mine to Indonesia’s MCAH energy for $320 million.

“The company’s plans to expand Mt Thorley Warkworth contradict what is otherwise a prudent strategy to reduce its exposure to coal,” said Vincent. “Rio has clearly recognised the liability of being a major coal miner as the world rapidly transforms.”

“Now this strategy needs to extend to the Mt Thorley Warkworth mine. Rio Tinto needs to drop its outrageous expansion plans and give the residents of Bulga a chance to protect their town.”

IMAGES: High quality stills available for download and publication: Bulga and the current mine, residents at the final Planning and Assessment hearing on 30 June 2015 in Singleton and the Premier and Rob Stokes’ visit to Bulga on 28 April 2015.

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Media manager James Lorenz: 0400 376 021.