THERE are calls for an independent investigation into the killing of wombats at the proposed KEPCO Bylong coal mine site after Resources Minister Don Harwin was questioned in NSW Parliament on Wednesday about government agency responses to allegations.
Greens MP and resources spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham asked Mr Harwin if agencies had “conducted a proper investigation into these wombat killings, including contacting all witnesses”, after a Newcastle Herald report in which the original complainant said he had heard nothing after raising the issue in early September.
KEPCO denied an allegation it directed staff to pour old sump and engine oil down wombat holes at Bylong Station to deal with wombats that were alleged to have chewed into water pipes. It confirmed it had obtained a permit from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to “cull” 10 wombats, but said they were infected with the parasitic skin infection mange.
In Parliament Mr Harwin repeated advice given to him and the Herald by the Office of Environment and Heritage, that a complaint to the Environment Protection Authority was referred to the National Parks and Wildlife Service on September 6. Mr Harwin said the service conducted an inspection of the area detailed in the complaint but found no evidence of oil.
But critics including a former worker, Bylong Valley Protection Alliance secretary Warwick Pearse and Mr Buckingham have questioned the thoroughness of the investigation after the complainant was not contacted to verify where the site was, and where a former worker offered to take investigators to the site. He had not been contacted.
Mr Buckingham said an independent investigation was needed because of KEPCO’s history, which includes providing false evidence as part of its mine application that led to a charge being laid and an enforceable undertaking. The NPWS has not responded to a question about whether it verified if the culled Bylong wombats had mange.
Mr Buckingham said it was appropriate to ask if KEPCO was a fit and proper company to hold a mining licence.
“An initial Office of Environment and Heritage review of the incident has not satisfied community concerns and the Greens are calling for a thorough, independent investigation of these allegations of cruelty,” Mr Buckingham said.
In Parliament Mr Buckingham asked Mr Harwin if he would cancel KEPCO Bylong’s mining licence “if the investigation finds KEPCO has behaved in a reprehensible manner and has deceived the govt”.
The NSW Department of Planning last week found the Bylong mine was “approvable”. The proposal has been referred to the NSW Independent Planning Commission for a final decision. A public hearing will be held at Mudgee on November 7.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.