Coal mines vs agriculture. Where does our investment future lie?
As NSW woke up following a State of Origin bloodbath, another heated confrontation came to a head yesterday. In the Liverpool Plains – one of the most fertile parts of the state – Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced the first set of conditions to approve the Shenhua Watermark coal mine.
The Exploration Lease is located just south of Gunnedah, and the Chinese giant is looking to extract 10 million tonnes of coal each year for the next thirty years.
Agriculture Minister (and Local Member for the region) Barnaby Joyce isn’t impressed, calling the project ‘madness’, and is certainly feeling the pressure of his constituents who have fought to have the lease – that was approved by the former Labor Government for $300 million – prevented from being granted a mining permit. Mr Joyce is certainly part of the battle.
"I've said publicly and privately I don't support this mine. I still don't support this mine and that will remain forevermore my view.”
The Agriculture Minister is feeling further heat with the prospect of Tony Windsor coming out of retirement to contest the seat of New England that he held until 2013. Joyce joins Education Minister Christopher Pyne who is also under electoral pressure thanks to the decisions of his fellow Cabinet members, this time in regard to the assumed rubber-stamping of the submarine contract to the Japanese Government.
Meanwhile, back to the Liverpool Plains. The area has been a battleground between farmers and miners for years and years. A long running argument says that coal mining is incompatible of with coal mining. As evidence, residents point to the experience of those living in the Hunter Valley, who say that the floodgates have opened and coal mines have run rife across the landscape.
Farmer Tim Duddy from The Caroona Coal Action Group, is still supportive of Chinese investment. Speaking on ABC Radio National Breakfast this morning, Mr Duddy proposed the mine’s lease be cacelled, and that investment is made into new agricultural projects. With the next Australian boom set to be a result of feeding Asia, this may be a more viable and appropriate strategy for the next 30 years.
For Shenhua Watermark, the process may already be in train. It will remain to be seen whether this project is a one-off approval, or there are more coal mines to come for the Liverpool Plains.