NSW Greens MP and mining spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon has called for the public disclosure of the agreement between the NSW government and the giant Chinese Shehua coalmining company for exploration rights over the Watermark lease on the Gunnedah Plains in the State’s north-west.

The deal was announced by Mineral Resources Minister Ian Macdonald who also doubles as the Primary Industries Minister.

In opening up the rich agricultural land to coalmining, Macdonald has fulfilled his role as mines minister but betrayed farmers who come under his primary industries portfolio.

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Local farmers, who are already engaging in a legal and on-the-ground battle with BHP Billiton over another mining site, are ropeable.

“Macca” has granted a $300 million exploration licence to the state-owned Shehua group which is the second biggest coalmining group in the world but Rhiannon says it is only the first step towards a full-scale, fully operational mine.

The Iemma government says this is an ‘exploration’ license but really it’s the go-ahead for massive coal mines that will rip the heart out of the Gunnedah Plains. History shows that this government never says ‘no’ to the granting of a mining license following exploration.

The NSW Nationals have also been caught in the wheels of the Watermark project: former Nationals leader and deputy premier Ian Armstrong has agreed to chair a community consultative committee to investigate the project.

“From previous experience we believe that the government’s handpicked community consultative committees are a charade, paying lip service to local voices to justify steamrolling the community,”Rhiannon said.

The Shehua deal is being sold to locals on the grounds that the Chinese company’s investment will generate funding for hospitals, schools and roads, plus $1 million annually for five years for a regional community trust.

The lure of money in an area that has been cash-starved for generations is great.

What about the impact of the 190sqkm mining development on “feel good” issues like water rescue, sustainable farming, food security and climate change?

Not even in the race; they don’t rate a mention.

This a government that is desperate for every dollar it can raise to pay for its re-election bid in 2011. It would sell the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge if an offer was made.

Not that Macdonald, who was first elected to the upper house and incredible 20 years ago, need worry about his re-election. The “hard left” has decided to dump him from its ticket and award his place to Luke Foley, assistant general secretary of the NSW Labor Party.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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