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Farmers living in 'Limbo Land' - This Week On Australian Story

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Pat Murphy
image - supplied/ABCTV

Maules Creek farmer Pat Murphy is in a seemingly insoluble predicament.

He and his family moved to their ‘dream property’ at Maules Creek in New South Wales seven years ago.  They were optimistic about the future, with plans to sub-divide their farm, run sheep and grow crops including barley and wheat.  The location was close to towns and a school for their young children.

But life changed dramatically for the Murphy family when exploration for an open-cut coal mine began right next door, just a year after they’d arrived in the area.

Pat Murphy says he wants to leave the property but says he has been stymied by the NSW Government’s planning laws and controversial ‘voluntary acquisition scheme’.

He wants to move to a comparable property but claims that it is impossible to do so with the money he is being offered by the mine operator, Whitehaven Coal.

In the meantime, he says that staying on the property leaves his family exposed to noise, and dust from the mine, yet they say the State government has told them that it is not able to directly act on his concerns.

‘Living this close to a mine it’s a nightmare, it never seems to stop.’    Pat Murphy, farmer
‘The State Government has authorised the interference with his [Pat’s] rights to quiet, safe enjoyment of his own land.’   Sue Higginson, Environmental Defenders Office principal solicitor
‘You’d like to grab people by the scruff of the neck and bash their heads together and go, come on, let’s sit down and fix this. This isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed.’    Simon Smith, retired Environmental Protection Authority officer
‘I think the government has something to answer for. I mean the government is there to protect and look after us and I think they have failed in this situation.’  Renee Murphy, Pat’s wife
Why? Because the government has acknowledged that the mine would be unable to comply with any noise and dust restrictions over parts of his property, therefore no specific restrictions were put in place for his property when the mine was approved. Instead, he was told, he can ask the mine to buy him out.

Solicitor Sue Higginson from the Environmental Defenders Office not only questions the rationale behind that decision but the entire approval process:

‘If that was the situation then it would have been appropriate to require that Pat’s property was purchased by the mine before the mine was approved.’

Last year an Environmental Protection Authority officer Simon Smith (since retired) investigated complaints from Pat Murphy and his neighbour Lochie Leitch about excessive dust coming from the mine. He says the mine ‘could do better’.

However Whitehaven Coal’s CEO Paul Flynn says the company is operating within its licence.

I’m certainly happy to stand by the track record of the company in terms of its compliance since the mine was constructed a short time ago.”

Earlier this year Pat Murphy and Lochie Leitch claimed that they were affected by blast fumes from the mine.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating those incidents.