MINING remains a highly contentious issue for producers across South Australia, and those further afield.
The federal government's decision to back the controversial Shenhua Watermark coal mine on the fertile Liverpool Plains, NSW, last week provoked widespread condemnation from many, most especially as the announcement came only days after the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was released.
The open cut coal mine has been a point of long-running conjecture, opposed by environmentalists and producers amid concerns about potential damage to valuable farmland productivity.
Shenhua has spent more than $200 million purchasing farmland for the project and concluded exploratory drilling in July 2012, where it gathered information for assessment including environmental reporting and community consultation.
In February, the NSW government approved the project, but ahead of the NSW election in March, the issue was referred to federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to assess under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, a move instigated by federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's predecessor in the New England electorate, Tony Windsor.
The federal government then approved the mine on Wednesday last week.
In SA, proposed mining on prime agricultural land across the state, including the South East and Yorke Peninsula, continues to spark producer fears.
Concerns include potential impacts to SA's 'premium food and wine from our clean environment' as the state government's promotional slogan goes, as well as mining's potential impact on underground aquifers and some of the most productive farming land in the state.
Mining plays an important economic role, but so too does farming. Farming is a renewable and reliable economic powerhouse, whereas mining fortunes – while initially much larger – are generally far shorter-term and more volatile. Approvals in agricultural regions need to take into account the long-term viability of industries, and the true costs of rehabilitating mine sites back into productive farmland.
Without this consideration the long-term economics of Australia going into the next century may be far bleaker.