On July 4, federal environment minister Greg Hunt approved the Shenhua Watermark coalmine in the Liverpool Plains in north-west NSW.
It will turn 35 square km of prime agricultural land into a giant hole, contaminate aquifers and, as the July 8 Sydney Morning Herald said, “is expected to destroy 789 hectares of an endangered ecological community, much of it box-gum woodland, and 148 hectares of other woods”.
The mine will also destroy 800 hectares of koala habitat, condemning the local koala population to extinction.
The decision has been slammed by farmers' groups and environmental organisations. Local farmer and Caroona Coal Action Group spokesperson Tim Duddy told the July 9 Northern Leader: “It’s been war for a long time, but now it’s really war. This community will do whatever it takes. Once the Liverpool Plains is harmed — and it will be — it will no longer be about co-existence, but sequential land use and the destruction of agriculture.”
In response to the company's claims that they would only be using limited amounts of water Duddy pointed out that this was irrelevant because of the destruction of aquifers. “It's not the water that they're taking that's the problem. It's the water that they're harming,” he told the SMH.
Fiona Simson, president of NSW Farmers, said: “It's literally blowing up a 35 square km hole in the heart of Australian agriculture … The threat to agriculture and water resources of this region posed by mining is too great and it shouldn't be approved.”
Tony Windsor, the former independent federal MP for the area, condemned the current Coalition and former Labor state governments, the federal government, and the Chinese government, which owns the Shenhua mining conglomerate. He said that the mines approval was making him consider re-entering politics, the ABC said on July 9.
Deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who replaced him in federal parliament and is also agriculture minister, said he was opposed to the mine but his failure to impact his government's decision has been attacked by farmers and environmentalist.
“The people of the New England electorate, with Barnaby Joyce as their MP, had thought he would be able to protect the Liverpool plains for them. That's why they elected him, to do that. Agriculture has come out as a big loser to coal in this decision,” Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Carmel Flint said on July 8.
NSW Greens State MP Jeremy Buckingham tweeted that Joyce's after-the-fact opposition was “fucking useless”.