After more than a decade of campaigning, Traditional Custodians, farmers and environmentalists are celebrating the preservation of rich farming plains from a coal corporation, writes Margaret Gleeson.
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.
Liverpool Plains' farmers are celebrating the New South Wales state government's decision, on August 11, to buy back BHP Billiton's Caroona coalmine licence for $220 million. This comes after a struggle that began in 2008, when farmer Tim Duddy and the local community began a blockade that put a spanner in BHP Billiton's efforts to start drilling operations on his family's Rossmar Park property.
Opponents of Shenhua-Watermark's mega coalmine in the Liverpool Plains in north-western NSW have been given a boost by the Chinese government-owned company's annual report released on March 24, which hinted it may not proceed.
The battle to save land and water in north-west NSW's Liverpool Plains, from coal and coal seam gas continues to be fought by Aboriginal communities, farmers, local councils and environmentalists. People in Tamworth, Moree, Narrabri, Boggabri, Gunnedah, Quirindi and Toomelah are fighting coalmining in the Leard State Forest and the Shenhua Watermark coalmine near Gunnedah. They are battling huge coal seam gas (CSG) projects in the Pilliga and gas projects in Narrabri and Tamworth.
More than 600 people gathered on a farm near the small town of Breeza on November 7 and 8 to celebrate the Liverpool Plains "Harvest Festival against Shenhua” in opposition to the proposed Watermark open cut coalmine. They declared they will return to continue peaceful protest at the site if the mine goes ahead.
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 decade-long campaign against the Bickham coal project, north of Scone in New South Wales, ended in victory on May 14, when NSW Premier Kristina Keneally announced the government would reject the proposed mine. The open-cut mine would have extracted 36 million tonnes of coal over 25 years. Keneally's decision came after the May 3 publication of the state Planning Assessment Commission's (PAC) report, which recommended the mine not proceed. It could be the first time the NSW government has ever blocked the development of a coalmine.