AUSTRALIA: Centennial Coal's community consultation has a price

Centennial Coal is attempting buy 'people's opinions and right to free speech' with its property purchase contracts for a new mine, according Greenpeace and a local residents group.

Contracts being offered by Centennial Coal to landowners around Anvil Hill NSW, as part of land purchase agreements in preparation for the area to be mined, have been called into question by Greenpeace. According to legal advice it has received, the contracts worth $25,000 contain clauses that mean signatories are not allowed to complain about the mine project and must also take action and sign documents required by Centennial Coal to support the project.

According to Greenpeace spokespersons, 'this means that Centennial may require a landowner who signed the agreement to sign a petition in support of the mine, or write a letter in support of the mine, or even attend a community meeting to speak out in support of the mine. Centennial doesn't just want to buy land; Centennial wants to buy people's opinions and their right to free speech'.

Ten landowners have said they will insist that Centennial has the 'gag provisions stripped' before they sign contracts. 'At the very least it has put a spanner in the works,' said the spokesperson.

Local residents in the Hunter Valley, named the Anvil Hill Project Watch Association, yesterday released a statement that labelled the Community Consultative Committees (CCCs) a sham in the wake of the scandal over the contracts being offered to Wybong landowners by Centennial Coal.

The group says the CCCs' credibility is completely undermined by the contracts because they forbid landowners to oppose mines and require them to support mine proposals. 'Effectively then, any landowner who has signed such a contract is legally obliged to support the mine proposal, making the CCCs a farce,' says the statement.

In a letter (provided to Ethical Investor) addressed to a resident in February Centennial Coal denied that it was offering cash in return for undertakings not to oppose its Awaba Mine proposal, which has now been withdrawn.

However Ethical Investor has also been provided with an unsigned form of 'Co-operation Agreement' between a 'Landholder' and Centennial Coal which for an 'Agreement Amount' of $25,000 commits the landholder, in part, to 'Not Object' and 'Support Approvals' for the Anvill Hill Project.

Centennial Coal's website describes The Anvil Hill Project as a large, low strip-ratio open-cut coal project, located west of Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Region in NSW.

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