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14 Things You Need To Know About The Massive New Coal Mine In The Liverpool Plains

Greg Hunt has just approved a 268 million tonne coal mine owned by the Chinese government - and farmers say it will be devastating.

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3. Farmers say the mine will destroy some of the most fertile agricultural land in Australia.

Kate Ausburn / Flickr: treslola

With rich black soil, the Liverpool Plains produce crops all year round, and produce about 40% above the national average of food per hectare, which contributes $332 million to the GDP each year.

Some say it's ironic for the government to give the green light to the mine at the same time as having aspirations for Australia to become the ‘Food Bowl of Asia’.

NSW Farming Association president Fiona Simson says it is outrageous that the mine was signed off on the same day as the launch of the Agricultural White Paper.

"On the same day the government... talked up the importance of the industry to the national economy, the environment minister was approving a mine that will disturb an area of over 4000 football fields in size, in the middle of some of Australia's best farming country," she said.


4. The decision has young farmers worried about their future on the land.

Spring Ridge farmer Sarah Hubbard is part of a group of young residents opposed to the Shenhua Watermark project. She told BuzzFeed News that she feels let down by the government, and the mine has made it impossible to plan for her future.

"How am I supposed to plan the next 30 years of my life with a mega coal mine who cannot guarantee that they will not destroy our water or farming land? How am I supposed to look my children or grandchildren in the eyes and explain to them that the people we trust and put in power failed to support us?" she said.

5. Greg Hunt says the government has imposed 18 conditions on Shenhua to protect the environment.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

In a statement he said "there will be no impact on the availability of water for agriculture. The conditions I have imposed limit water use to less than 0.09 per cent of available groundwater – that's less than 1/1000th of the resource and less than the amount of water from one agricultural bore."

But farmers are not convinced.

"The minister may have imposed many conditions but that is no guarantee that we won't look back and realise that the conditions weren't sufficient and it is too late to fix it," Sarah Hubbard told BuzzFeed News.

She says the Liverpool Plains rely on groundwater that will be disturbed by digging the mines.

"If, or more likely when, Shenhua draws down or affects that groundwater we will no longer be able to produce what we have previously. It will literally be destroyed and there is no amount of compensation that will be able to undo such an atrocity," Hubbard said.

7. Shenhua plans on removing 10 million tonnes of coal each year for 30 years.

Paul Crock / Getty Images

That's expected to generate $1.5 billion in royalties. The company will create 600 direct jobs during the construction of the mine.


8. The mine is on the site of sacred Aboriginal archeological sites belonging to the Gomeroi people.

There are sacred grinding groove rocks (ancient marks in stone from sharpening axes) that Shenhua says it will remove and then put back when the mining pit is rehabilitated.

Traditional custodians say that will destroy an important part of Aboriginal culture.

"We wonder what the People of the Chinese Republic would feel if we wanted to carve up the Great Wall of China and then marginalise their concerns by saying – "stop belly aching we will put it back in 17 years’ time, what’s your problem?" wrote traditional landowner Dolly Tallbott.

9. Scientists say the mine will put local koalas at risk of extinction.

Roland Weihrauch / Getty Images

The mine is expected to clear 847 hectares of koala habitat, the ABC reports. Shenhua says it will encourage the koalas to move away naturally, but activists say they are vulnerable to extinction.

10. The federal agriculture minister is opposed to the mine, describing it as "ridiculous".

Barnaby Joyce, who is also the member for New England, says the Liverpool Plains mine is "absurd" but he wasn't able to stop it.

In a Facebook post, he spoke out against his own party, writing "I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land."

But former independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, says Joyce's public concern is rubbish.

"The Liverpool Plains and Namoi Valley has the largest groundwater system in the Murray Darling Catchment which will now be at risk. Days ago, Ag Min Joyce waxing on about need to ensure water resources are protected for food production. Does this guy read what he says?" " he tweeted on Wednesday.

In fact, Tony Windsor's so angry about the mine that he's considering a return to politics.

11. The mine has a dodgy political history.

Joel Carrett / AAPIMAGE

Shenhua paid a record $300 million to get an exploration licence for the mine in 2008.

Ian Macdonald, the former NSW planning minister, was later found corrupt by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

12. Some people think the government tried to hide the news, knowing everyone would be talking about Bill Shorten's Royal Commission appearance and the State of Origin rugby league match.

@TonyHWindsor Cynical (and predictable) of Hunt to issue approval hours before Origin kick-off and while Shorten is at #turc. Poor form.

14. There will be court action.

Farming groups are promising to take the matter to the courts. This is in addition to the existing legal challenge by community group Upper Mooki Landcare into the process that got the project's approval.

"Our campaign isn't over," says Sarah Hubbard, who's vowed to continue fighting the approval of the mine.

"Farmers on the Liverpool Plains are not opposed to coal mining full stop. We are opposed to this coal project because of its stupidity. It's as stupid as putting a coal mine in the middle of the Sydney Botanical Gardens."

Shenhua hopes to start construction on the mine early next year.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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