Fossil fuels vs farmers: A battle that's dividing politics – and shifting towns | RenewEconomy

Fossil fuels vs farmers: A battle that’s dividing politics – and shifting towns

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A whole town in NSW’s Hunter Valley may have to be moved to accommodate a coal mine expansion. Meanwhile, National MPs flee the chamber on votes about coal, gas and farmland.

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In the battle of miners versus land-holders, the miners seem to have chalked up a major win this week, after the NSW Planning Assessment Commission effectively approved Rio Tinto’s twice-rejected plans to expand its controversial Warkworth coal mine in the Hunter Valley region – despite this possibly resulting in the relocation of an entire town.

In a review report tabled on Wednedsay, the Commission said the Warkworth mine would “undoubtedly have a range of adverse impacts on [the nearby] Bulga village and its community” – bad enough to warrant moving it to another location.

But it argued that these concerns were overruled by legislative and policy changes which “prioritised the significance” of the coal deposit.

“Whilst the commission notes that the current application is very similar to the previous Warkworth Extension Project that was refused by the LEC (Land and Environment Court), significant legislative and policy changes have occurred since that time,” the PAC report said.

The Committee thus recommended that Rio Tinto give “serious consideration” to compensation being paid to residents, as well as to the relocation of the village of Bulga, at the expense of the miner and the NSW government.csgprotest

But the Warkworth battle is just one in a broader war pitting Australia’s mining industry against its farming industry – a war that has recruited some unlikely soldiers.

Take right-wing breakfast radio shock jock Alan Jones. The dedicated opponent of the carbon tax and, at times, renewable energy, has more recently summoned his vitriol (and considerable influence) against coal seam gas (and other coal projects) and the companies and governments enabling them.

In doing so, Jones sides with then nation’s farmers, his argument based on protecting prime rural land like Queensland’s Darling Downs – a farming area about 100km west of Brisbane (and near to Jones’ home town) – where the expansion of the New Acland coal mine has raised much local opposition and perhaps helped cost ex-Premier Campbell Newman his job.

In February, Jones warned NSW Premier Mike Baird there would be “consequences” if he allowed coal seam gas development over the NSW water table.

At both the federal and state level, the battle over conventional and unconventional coal mining has revealed serious divisions within the National party who, in lockstep with the Liberals, have traditionally supported any and all growth in Australia’s resources sector.

Now, with more and more new mining projects being developed at the cost of agriculture, cracks in this support are beginning to show.

“The Nationals are hopelessly conflicted on landholder rights,” said Greens Setator Larissa Waters in a statement on Thursday.

Waters said that while Nationals in Victoria had “finally started to realise” it was unacceptable to side with big mining companies over farmers, federal Nationals had failed to support this policy in the Senate.

“Given this recent move forward in Victoria, I put a motion to the Senate today calling for agreement that landholders across Australia should have the right to say no to CSG on their land,” Waters said.csg-bentley-blockage-live-byron-16

“The Nationals deserted the chamber for the second time this week to avoid voting on a CSG matter and showing their true colours.

“Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan stayed in the chamber until two seconds before the division bells ended, with his eyes on the doors – presumably to ensure no other National came in to vote, and he walked out just before the vote was taken.

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the Nationals failed to support a separate Greens’ Senate motion calling for NSW’s Liverpool Plains to be off limits to CSG and coal, including the Shenhua Watermark mine.

“The Nationals Senators all fled the chamber for the vote, while the Liberal and Labor Senators voted against our call for the protection of the Liverpool Plains,” Waters said.

“The Nationals are playing both sides, saying one thing in regional communities and then doing another in the Parliament while taking donations from the mining and gas industry.

“The Liverpool Plains, with rich black soil, excellent water resources and ideal climatic conditions, is one of Australia’s most important farming regions.

“It’s blatantly hypocritical of the Nationals to purport to care about agriculture and then to stand by while this valuable farmland is trashed,” she said.

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8 Comments
  1. Rob G 5 years ago

    The Nationals are in real danger of losing their farming voting base to the greens. A few years ago this would be extremely unlikely, but now who do the farmers turn too? The Greens are the only party that have a clear and absolute view on CSG. It’s time to send a powerful message to National headquarters and Federal Liberal. Losing the farming vote in future years could put the final nail into the Liberal coffin.

    • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

      not so much the nail in the liberal coffin as the nationals coffin. in truth the liberals barely need them though and occasionally run against them even. once people start looking at the revving door for National MPs into the board room of big coal, gas and oil (Mark Vail, John Anderson to name two ex-leaders) it will be clear what the Nats are all about and who’s interests the Nats represent. Even Barnaby Joyce could be in trouble over his purchase of scrub country ahead of a CSG play which nobody else seemed to have heard about at the time of purchase.

  2. The Lismoron 5 years ago

    This is the reason why I do not trust the ALP (as well as Nats). “while the Liberal and Labor Senators voted against our call for the protection of the Liverpool Plains”

    They spruik (at state level) about CSG moratorium over NSW (where have we heard that before?). NO MENTION by Luke Foley of Coal Mining restrictions (no wonder… vote to fcuk over the community of Bulga).
    The ONLY choice in NSW state election is NUMBER EVERY BOX and put Nats/LNP last and ALP 2nd to last!!!!

    • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

      the CSG moratorium is only in specific places like Sydney, possibly water catchments for Sydney and some areas around northern rivers isn’t it? protestors are still trying to protect water catchments and other areas where CSG extraction is imminent.

  3. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    The Nationals’ support clearly comes from its agricultural base which has managed the land for several generations – for food and fibre no less – they are hopelessly conflicted. The abstinence from voting is at least a positive sign.

  4. Kevin O'Dea 5 years ago

    The National Party will go the way of the dinosaurs and the Tasmanian Tiger. Farmers will remember this basic betrayal of their interests.

  5. Barri Mundee 5 years ago

    Perhaps the Nationals should be re-named the Fractionals?

  6. wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

    I’ll tell you what will take the farmers back to the National Party: when this nation starts to have an honest conversation about the fact that in real terms half of Australia’s GHG emissions are coming from sources associated with our livestock industries.

    so the fight with fossil fuels is going to look straight forward when it comes to the battle to reduce emissions from the land sector running way too many ruminant animals. at this point I can see farmers embracing CC denialism with renewed vigour, even as arable land becomes wastelands to climate change.

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