EMOTIONS ran high as Shenhua Watermark’s plans to build a $1 billion coalmine on the fertile soils of the Liverpool Plains went on trial before the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) yesterday.
Farmers, environmentalists, elected representatives and business owners were among the 50 people to rise and make their case on the opening day of the two-day hearing in Gunnedah.
Some of the speakers were in favour of a mine that Shenhua says will create more than 1000 jobs, provide in excess of $1 billion in state royalties and have profound benefits for local communities. But the majority argued against the project, claiming the mine at Breeza will irrevocably taint groundwater resources, choke the surrounding areas with dust and threaten the region’s status as the food bowl of Australia.
The three-person PAC panel chaired by Gabrielle Kibble – the daughter of former governor-general Sir John Kerr – is tasked with sifting through the arguments and making recommendations to the state’s planning minister.
Second-generation Breeza cotton farmer John Hamparsum implored the panel to advise against approval in order for the Liverpool Plains to avoid the same fate that has befallen the Hunter Valley.
“It is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” he said.
“The hand is on the lever than can either open the floodgates to mining in the Liverpool Plains, or to close and protect our food bowl for other generations.
“We know what’s happens when a mine is developed. We know how mines skew the science so they can get their approval. We know that years down the track the science they have put forward is proven totally incorrect.
“I beseech you to give the minister the right advice and recommend that the Shenhua Watermark proposal is not approved.”
Twenty-four-year-old farmer Harry Carter told the panel that Shenhua’s proposed mine will inhibit his ability to grow food the nation needs, while sixth-generation Breeza farmer Brett Clift claimed it will threaten the area’s proud agricultural tradition.
Gunnedah mayor Owen Hasler used his time to call on the state government to provide communities facing incursions from massive mining companies with “more robust, transparent and objective” planning processes.
Earlier in the day, more than 200 people – many armed with anti-mining placards – marched down Gunnedah’s main street to protest the mine which, if approved, will see 268 million tonnes of coal extracted over 30 years.