Liverpool Plains farmers have reacted angrily to NSW resources minister Don Harwin’s announcement on July 12 that it will buy back only half of the Shenhua coal exploration licence covering the Liverpool Plains. This means that the government is allowing an open-cut coalmine in NSW’s food bowl.
The NSW government will pay $262 million to buy back 51% of Shehua’s exploration licence. However, as eight years have passed without the coal giant starting “substantial development”, the government could simply cancel its exploration licence without compensation.
Breeza farmer Andrew Pursehouse, whose property adjoins the proposed Shenhua coalmine, said farmers had been “betrayed by the NSW government”.
“If it was serious about protecting farmland, it would have cancelled the coal licence outright and stopped this coalmine.
“Carving out areas that Shenhua weren’t going to mine won’t change a thing. Anything less than the full cancellation of the Watermark Project will fail to protect the farming systems of the Liverpool Plains. The community is fully committed to fight this coalmine going ahead no matter what this government decides.”
National spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance Phil Laird said: “The NSW government could have cancelled this licence and banned coalmining on our agricultural land. Instead, [it is] handing taxpayers’ money to a foreign-owned company and waving them through to mine our food bowl.
“This coalmine is going to be 200 metres deep and its going to cut below the ridge-line way below the level of the farm land and the aquifers. The impact to those aquifers is unknown and the entire region depends on those aquifers for survival.
“We will support the farming community of the Liverpool Plains to keep this mine out of one of the best agricultural regions in this country.”
Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said the government “had essentially given Shenhua permission to mine the Liverpool Plains and given them $262 million to do so.” She said that the public would not support the government “rolling out the red carpet to trash our best farmland”.
Former independent MP for New England Tony Windsor said Shenhua had told him long ago it would leave the Liverpool Plains alone in return for coal exploration rights elsewhere. He said he thought the company had always intended to reach such a deal.
Windsor said there had not been enough investigation into the risks of mining below a flood plain and the decision ignored concerns about the impact of mining on the area’s groundwater system.
“What was announced today has got nothing to do with scientific information; it’s just a financial deal between the two sides and trying to get a political fix,” he said. “People want a scientific fix and a long-term fix.”