A clause in the fine print of the Shenhua Liverpool Plains coal mine contract means the government could cancel the company’s licence by the end of the week.
The cancellation clause says if the company has not commenced “substantial development” of a mine on the site within eight years, its exploration licence can be cancelled.
The deadline falls on Saturday, October 22.
Shenhua has made a last ditch attempt to avoid the kill date, applying for an exemption to the condition, which the government is considering.
Farmers and community groups have banded together, encouraging Resource Minister Anthony Roberts to deny the exemption and use the clause to put the mine to bed.
SOS Liverpool Plains president Rosemary Nankivell said despite Shenhua knowing about the deadline for eight years and the government approving the mine in July last year, “not a sod” had been turned on the site. “Now is the ideal opportunity for the government to cancel the licence and put this dangerous folly behind us,” Ms Nankivell said.
A spokesperson for Mr Roberts said the condition only allowed for the licence to be cancelled if there were “no reasonable excuses” for not starting the project. “The company contends it has made all reasonable efforts to comply with this provision but has been prevented due to numerous legal and other regulatory interventions which are outside of its control,” they said.
Upper Mooki Landcare chairwoman Nicky Chirlian said an exemption of the cancellation clause would be “one more slap in the face” for the region’s farmers. “Coal mining on and around the Liverpool Plains poses too great a risk for the future of the food-bowl and the groundwater that supports it,” Ms Chirlian said.
Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said the deadline was a chance for the government to “deliver on its rhetoric”. “This is really a test of their seriousness and commitment to protecting good agricultural soil and the aquifers that support it from open cut mines – and they shouldn't pass it up.”
The kill-clause may impact the government’s negotiations with Shenhua to reduce the size of its exploration licence, which would restrict the mine to the ridges of the plains. The Leader contacted Shenhua, but the company declined to comment.
- Editorial, P10