Barnaby Joyce has has declared it ridiculous to have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land, after Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave conditional approval for the controversial Watermark project in his NSW electorate.
Mr Joyce posted the comment on his Facebook page after news broke that the Chinese company Shenhua was granted approval for the $1 billion Watermark mine near Gunnedah, under 18 conditions the government says are among the strictest in Australia’s history.
Local opponents of the mine earlier took aim at the region’s local member and Agriculture Minister, Mr Joyce, for failing to protect the region from the mine.
On Wednesday night Mr Joyce took to his Facebook page share his views on the approval.
“I’ve never supported the Shenhua mine. I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land,” he wrote.
Environment minister Greg Hunt has put strict conditions on the mine, including putting the black soil plains off limits to mining, while the project area is restricted to the ridge country around Mt Watermark. Shenhua must also complete water and biodiversity management plans before any mining starts.
“There will be no impact on the availability of water for agriculture,” Mr Hunt said.
Another condition includes the power to stop work and stop mining if there are any effects on agricultural water supply, and if that occurs the mine must immediately provide an alternative water supply to farmers.
If it gets underway the coal mine is expected to create up to 600 jobs.
Local opponents say they are devastated by the approval and fearful about its impact on farming.
“The people of the New England electorate, with Barnaby Joyce as their MP, had thought he would be able to protect the Liverpool plains for them. That’s why they elected him, to do that,” Lock the Gate Alliance spokeswoman Carmel Flint told AAP.
“Agriculture has come out as a big loser to coal in this decision.
She said the mine will threaten sorghum and legume production in the region, which acts as a food bowl for NSW.
The Greens accused the government of putting overseas mining interests before local farmers and the climate, and accused Mr Joyce of failing to protect the Liverpool Plains.