Activists condemn National’s appointment of coal lobbyist

September 17, 2015
A convoy of tractors protests the proposed Shenhua Watermark coal mine on the Liverpool Plains.

Newly-elected Nationals Party president Larry Anthony has been revealed to be the executive director and co-owner of a lobby firm that counted coal company Shenhua Watermark as a client.

Anthony’s firm, SAS Group, lobbied for Shenhua until July this year. The company wants to build an open-cut coalmine near Gunnedah, on the Liverpool Plains. The mine is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of coal a year.

The Greens say Anthony has been “personally lobbying the NSW Department of Planning on behalf of Shenhua since 2012.” His name is still on the NSW Lobby Contact Register as a lobbyist for Shenhua, despite his claims to have removed himself.

Community groups who are battling coal projects on their land are unhappy at the conflict of interest.

The Caroona Coal Action Group says the Shenhua coalmine is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The 35-square kilometre mine will be built in a region that contains the most important agricultural land in New South Wales. It is also likely it will permanently damage underground aquifers and destroy Aboriginal cultural sites.

The NSW Farmers Association, Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce and the Young Nationals also strongly oppose the mine.

Despite this, Anthony was elected unopposed at the party’s national conference on September 12.

The issue of coal and gas mining on farmland has caused a deep rift in the Nationals, with many people upset that Joyce, who is also the agriculture minister, has failed to stop farmland being threatened by coal projects.

Tony Windsor, who has not ruled out running against Joyce in New England, said Anthony’s appointment demonstrated the “shambles” of the National Party.

Federal environment minister Greg Hunt gave final approval to the mine in July. Greens Senator Larissa Waters said: “With the coal price in structural decline, it's economically insane to be sacrificing valuable farming land for the dying coal industry, especially when we have viable renewable energy alternatives.”

Liverpool Plains farmer and Caroona Coal Action Group spokesperson Tim Duddy said appointing Anthony as president would be the death knell of the National Party.

“Finally the Nationals have looked in the mirror and seen what they want to be,” he said. “They want to be the mining party. Rural Australia will deal with it and it won’t be too long before they go the way of the dodo, which is where they deserve to be.”

Anthony is not the only politician that has also worked as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry.

Former Nationals leader John Anderson became chairman of coal seam gas company Eastern Star Gas after he left politics. Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has also just appointed Cameron Milner, a former lobbyist for the Adani coalmine in Queensland, as his chief of staff.

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