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article imageOp-Ed: Australia's NSW mine approval has farmers up in arms

By Karen Graham     Jul 14, 2015 in World
Approval was given on July 8 for the construction of the Watermark coal mine in the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah in northern NSW, despite substantial opposition from farmer's groups concerned about its negative impact on the agricultural region.
The $1.7 billion mining project has been in the works since 2008, with the granting of a $300 million exploration license to the state-owned Chinese mining company Shenhua Group.
The project, located 25 km south-east of the town of Gunnedah, near the village of Breeza, in NSW, has become controversial because of its location in the Liverpool plains, a prime agricultural region of Australia. The mining project is named for nearby Mount Watermark.
The mine is expected to have a 30-year life span, extracting 10 million tons of coal annually from three large extraction pits, covering 35 square kilometers. Shenhua officials have said the coal would be shipped through a port at Newcastle.
Farming lobby takes on NSW government
The NSW Planning Assessment Commission gave its approval for the Landmark project on April 7, 2015, and the project got federal approval from the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt this week.
Hunt explained his approval decision by saying that "Shenhua needs to provide the Minister with biodiversity, water and rehabilitation management plans prior to the start of construction," according to abc.net.au.
But Barnaby Joyce, the federal agricultural minister is lambasting Hunt's decision, labeling the decision as "ridiculous." He went on Facebook, posting that he never supported the Landmark mine and the approval was "unfortunate". He added, "I've done everything in my power to try and stop the mine."
This background brings us to Derek Schoen, who was elected as president of the NSW Farmers Association on Tuesday. He has already committed his organization to having the approval for the Landmark mine overturned. "We're going to leave no stone unturned to try and get this decision overturned," Mr. Schoen news media on Tuesday.
Schoen has put out a call to all grassroots farmers to join in stopping the Landmark mine from being opened, saying "no one is safe within NSW, basically within Australia, to carry out a farming operation without having the rug pulled out from underneath you."
What is really involved in government approval of the Landmark mine?
The Sydney Morning Herald raised some interesting issues about the state and federal government's decision on the mine, and what other issues, besides using prime farmland, were involved. Quite frankly, it sounds somewhat like a political move on the part of the federal government.
In the first place, if government's cabinet members can't agree on the mine, how do they expect the public to take to the idea, says the SMH. This breach in confidence should raise some questions with everyone. But even more interesting is the fact that Shenhua is a "state-owned" Chinese company.
This matters because with Shenhua being owned by the Chinese government, Australia will have to be very careful in limiting mining in the future on environmental grounds, or end up dealing with unsavory diplomatic issues between the two governments.
According to SMH, the mine's manager has already called Joyce a "loony" because he protested against the project, saying the Chinese government might just retaliate by not buying Australian goods. But then, if the groundwater aquifers end up being damaged, Australia won't have a lot of goods to sell.
The ensuing fight sounds like the Adani fight
The Adani mining project, also hailed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as good for Australia, has suffered a defeat. It took a court case to ferret out the company's use of a low tax regime of Singapore to the tax haven in the Cayman Islands.
Greens deputy leader Larissa Waters said documents relating to Adani's financial status only confirmed what opponents of the project had been saying all along. "It was perfectly obvious that the project wasn't viable, which makes it more insulting that public money was going to be stumped up under the former Newman government," Senator Waters said.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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