In Janary 2010 farmers in Caroona, from the Liverpool Plains northwest of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia, lost the battle to block BHP Billiton from exploring for coal in fertile agricultural land. Chief Justice Brian Preston found that their were no grounds to rule the licence invalid.

Preston stressed that the court was not judging whether the licences should have been granted in the first place. Stating that the government had failed to follow due process when it issued BHP Billiton’s exploration licence farmers had blockaded against BHP Billitons exploration, fearing that the development of coalfields would damage their livelihoods and the water that they rely on.

Despite losing this legal battle the farmers united said they would continue to fight. And so they did. Two months later farmers savoured a landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court finding that BHP Billiton’s licences to explore for coal on two farms in the region were invalid. “It sets precedents and says that mining companies have to smarten up their act and do things by the book”, stated Les Alcorn, one of the two farmers who won against the mining giant[1].

The decision sent a strong message to BHP Billiton and other mining companies exploring in the state of New South Wales that they may be unable to prospect on private land if they failed to negotiate access with the mortgagee as well as the property owner.

Natalie Lowrey, Friends of the Earth Australia

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[1] Farmer ‘vindicated’ after court win against BHP Billiton, Lanai Vasek, The Australian, 6 March 2010.

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