WHILE Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been “scoring political points” for his opposition to the Shenhua mine, his fellow cabinet member, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, has quietly refused to revoke the mine’s approval, anti-coal activists say.
Lock the Gate Alliance wrote to Mr Hunt in October last year, asking him to use his powers as environment minister to overturn the mine’s approval, because the cumulative impacts of clearing on the critically endangered box gum grassy woodland had not been accurately identified. Mr Hunt knocked back the group’s request.
The organisation said Mr Joyce, a vocal critic of the mine, had the perfect opportunity to use his position as deputy prime minister and agriculture and water minister to influence Mr Hunt’s decision.
“Barnaby Joyce keeps on making comments to the people of New England that having cabinet member gives them influence,” Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods said.
“He could have showed his constituents he can wield that influence by talking to his colleague, Greg Hunt, and convincing him to use the power he’s got to stop the mine.
“We have all these politicians lining up to say the Shenhua mine is a bad idea – well, put action where your mouth is and stop the mine going ahead. At the moment it is being used as a political football, but no action is being taken by anyone that has the power.”
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation, federal environment ministers have the power to revoke an approval if they believe “the impacts that the action has had, will have or is likely to have were not accurately identified in information available to the minister when the approval was given”. Mr Hunt wrote back to the group’s request and said: “I consider there is insufficient evidence, including the information you have provided, on the cumulative impacts of the coal mines in the region, to support your request that the approval be revoked.”
A spokesman for Mr Joyce confirmed he had received a copy of the letter. “Mr Joyce has raised a wide range of issues regarding the Shenhua Watermark coal project, not just with the federal environment minister, but also the premier and deputy premier of NSW, whose government is responsible for the vast majority of the approvals process for the mine. NSW has total discretion on whether to open the land to mining and under what conditions – the federal assessment is exclusively a legal, scientific and non-discretionary process,” the spokesman said.
Mr Joyce said he had done everything in his power to try to stop the mine.
“I think the world has gone mad when apparently you cannot build a house at Moore Creek because of white box grassy woodlands, but you can build a super mine in the middle of the Breeza plains,” he said.