Existing mine’s water issue shows danger of Shenhua project: Joyce

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has written to the Baird government in a last-ditch effort to try to stop the state licence needed for the Shenhua mine. AAP/Lukas Coch

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says existing mining activity near the proposed Shenhua Watermark coal mine in his New England electorate has breached the aquifer, indicating the same is likely to happen with the new project.

The defiant Nationals’ deputy leader, who is fighting last week’s federal approval of the planned Shenhua mine, at the weekend gathered more information from locals familiar with the Whitehaven coal operation.

Joyce said water was pouring into the mine. It was being pumped into the air to get it to vaporise. “The neighbours are of the view that their water rights have been affected by the mine.” Bores were lower than previously and some were dry, he said. The company had promised to make good the farmers’ water problem but was now blaming the drought for their situation, Joyce told The Conversation.

“The farmers’ water has disappeared. The mine’s water has gone over the top,” Joyce said.

Whitehaven was “the closest you will get to a working example of where the Shenhua mine will be operating”. The Shenhua site was about 40 kilometres away.

Joyce’s comments about Whitehaven were supported by James O'Brien, a local spray contractor, who previously sprayed on the land. “If the aquifer has been been breached, who’s to say that’s not caused bores to go dry?”

Joyce has written to the Baird government in a last-ditch effort to try to stop the state licence needed for the Shenhua mine.

Joyce’s angry opposition has embarrassed the federal government. Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to explain it as Joyce speaking out as local member. But Joyce insisted he was talking as agriculture minister, concerned about mining activity in prime agricultural areas.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said on Sunday the federal government would not change its mind about the Shenhua project. He said Joyce’s views were well known to Environment Minister Greg Hunt before Hunt gave approval for the mine.

Robb said the conclusion from the science “is it will do no damage whatsoever to the Liverpool Plains. And if it does, the mine can be stopped.”

Asked on Sky why Joyce should be allowed to criticise a ministerial decision, Robb said the cabinet of 19 was “full of A-type people” and Abbott had to manage the personalities. “There are rules, but there are things to be managed.” In order to maintain stability, “you have to accommodate, at times, not endlessly”.

“You know, Barnaby is a particular personality. It brings with it great strengths and we want to continue to enjoy those strengths.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Joyce was emerging “as a man of straw”, saying one thing to his electorate and another to Abbott.

“He’s got to stop playing in the traffic. He needs to decide whose side he’s on and then he needs to nail his colours to the mast.”

Shorten said it was unsustainable to have an agriculture minister criticising his prime minister’s decision for jeopardising agriculture and still pretending to be the minister for agriculture. “It’s time for Barnaby Joyce to make a decision.”

Asked Labor’s position on the Shenhua project, Shorten said the balance had to be got right in terms of not just short-term mining but also the long-term agricultural value of the Liverpool Plains.

“This is really a question for the scientific experts and Labor’s willing to back science. But we are concerned and we understand the concerns of people in the whole Liverpool Plains area about this mine potentially jeopardising its future as a food bowl.”

Meanwhile, the opposition accused Abbott of pursuing his “anti-wind ideology”, after Fairfax Media reported the government had ordered the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) not to make new investments in wind energy projects. Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann issued the directive.

Abbott defended it, saying that the government wanted to abolish the CEFC “because we think that if the projects stack up economically there’s no reason why they can’t be supported in the usual way.

"But while the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies – certainly not existing wind farms.”

Abbott is on record as anti-wind farms, believing them “visually awful”.

Shorten said Abbott “wants to jeopardise thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment”. “Why is Mr Abbott so stuck in the past that he’s fighting so hard against the jobs and the industries of the future?”

Robb said that part of the understanding, when the government was negotiating with Senate crossbenchers over the legislation for a new renewable energy target, was that the CEFC would focus on new emerging technologies and not on mature technologies like wind, which could source funds in the commercial market.

Hunt wrote in a letter at the time: “The government will write to the CEFC to amend the investment mandate to promote the original intent of the CEFC to focus investment on emerging and innovative renewable technologies and energy efficiency. This will in turn increase the uptake of emerging technology such as large scale solar and energy efficiency.”

Postscript Monday 13 July, 12:01am:

Call for look at impact of climate change on financial system.

The Climate Institute has urged financial authorities to undertake a comprehensive assessment of Australia’s financial system to ensure it would be resilient enough to withstand climate-related shocks.

Releasing a discussion paper titled ‘Australia’s Financial System and Climate Risk’ the Institute said the financial system could be destabilised by both direct climate change impacts and secondary effects such as a slump in demand for carbon-intensive exports.

The Institute’s CEO John Connor said climate change was already affecting the economy and some companies were waking up to the implications for their businesses. But many others were forging ahead as though climate change, with the economic changes needed to deal with it, would have no impact on their plans.

“There’s a risk that poor policy signalling, delayed action, and misreading by markets could lead to a messy transition that threatens the stability of our financial system. This risk deserves closer examination by our policy makers and financial regulators,” he said.

“The question is whether the entire financial system can adapt in an orderly way to climate change and related shifts in policy, society and technology.”

Help combat alt-facts and fake news and donate to independent journalism. Tax deductible.