FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has described Shenhua Watermark’s plans to mine coal on the Liverpool Plains an “absurdity” but says, regrettably, the matter is out of his hands.
Mr Joyce told The Leader yesterday it was his long-held opinion that the Chinese company’s coalmine was a grave mistake given the land around Breeza was “some of the best farming country in Australia, if not the best”.
Some farmers and industry representatives who gathered in Gunnedah last week for a two-day hearing into Shenhua’s controversial proposal accused Mr Joyce of failing to represent their interests on the matter since the Coalition came to power.
Mr Joyce insisted that his opinion towards the project had not changed, however, his elevation to the agriculture portfolio did not provide him with the authority to intervene or influence what is a state government matter.
“I think the idea of a coalmine on the Breeza Plains is an absurdity,” he said.
“I think it’s most likely that it’s going to have a deleterious effect on the aquifers,” he said.
“What I don’t want to do is provide people with some belief that because I think that, it has anymore weight than them thinking it.
“My involvement in this space goes as far as aquifers – that’s it.” Mr Joyce said he had been “leading the charge on behalf of farmers” in the Coalition party room and he had done everything he could within the law to advance the interests of constituents concerned at Shenhua’s mine.
“The question I always have to (ask of) people is what more can I do?” he said.
“How did we get to this situation? Because a corrupt (NSW Labor) minister called Ian Macdonald approved ... a licence.
“So it was by a different state, by a different government, by a person who’s corrupt. What can I do about that?”
Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker said it was “positive news” to hear Mr Joyce reiterate his opposition to the mine’s location in an area of such agricultural significance.
“We understand he must leave the decision to the NSW government, but as federal agriculture minister and local member it is incumbent on him to advocate for the right decisions to be made for this region,” she said.
“As the local member, it would be ironic to see a mine approved that has significant negative impacts on the region’s agricultural productivity, particularly holding the portfolio representing Australia’s farmers.
“I doubt whether the farming community will accept the ‘my hands are tied’ defence.”