ENVIRONMENT Minister Greg Hunt's decision to approve Shenhua Australia's $1 billion Watermark open cut coal mine on the NSW Liverpool Plains has incensed Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Joyce said today the decision to approve the mine in his largely agricultural rural electorate was "ridiculous".
"I’ve never supported the Shenhua mine. I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land," he said.
"I’ve done everything in my power to try and stop the mine. We brought about further investigations; we had an independent expert scientific review.
"I feel this approval is unfortunate, but at the very least it gives the Minister for the Environment the condition that if any of the modelling does not turn out to be factual he has the capacity to stop it at that point.
"The fault of this goes right back to who gave the exploration licences and why - and was further exacerbated by those who deemed it proper that it should proceed and continued on with the process."
Mr Joyce noted there were still two further steps at the state level to go through following the federal approval.
"I’ve said publicly and privately I don’t support this mine. I still don’t support this mine and that will remain forever more my view.
"I think the world has gone mad when apparently you cannot build a house at Moore Creek because of White Box grassy woodlands but you can build a super mine in the middle of the Breeza plains."
At the National Press club on Monday, Mr Joyce was asked what his government was doing at the federal level to ensure prime farmland was safeguarded from mining industries.
He said it was “mad” to completely shut down CSG industries where there’s $40 billion worth of investment around Gladstone.
But Mr Joyce said guidelines were needed as to how it worked including not mining on prime agricultural land and to not destroy aquifers.
“There is no more prime ag land being built anywhere in the world,” he said.
“Whatever we have, it's here now, in fact each day there's less of it, so protect it.
“Aquifers are a public asset and so many people in so many areas rely on them. They rely on them downstream and around and everywhere, so you've got to protect that asset.”
Mr Joyce said the mining also had to deliver a fair return back to the community and miners and State governments had “got it wrong” by getting “too greedy” towards farmers.
“If the community sees all this action going on around it, then it would expect that their hospitals to be fixed, and their schools to be refurbished, and their roads to be sealed,” he said.
“What really annoys people in regional areas, when they see the money from the resources in their area in new tunnels and new freeways in the city because they say, ‘that's just exploiting us’.
“To be honest, the mines got it wrong, and the State governments got wrong, they all got wrong because they got too greedy.
“You must make sure a fair return goes back to the farmer.
“At the start, we were finding (situations where) a well was producing $60,000 a day and the farmer got a case of beer.
“Another one got $240 a year (and) another one was getting $1500 but he was keeping it a secret.
“Once these things become exposed, you say well that's just exploitation.”
Mr Joyce said he thought a fair deal was that no less than 1 per cent of the gross in the well head should be the deal that the farmer gets.
“That's a pretty good deal because everybody else gets 99 per cent and people argued against it,” he said.
“They said that was outrageous.
“Well here's another deal: nobody gets anything.
“And because people we so tight, because they didn't walk up and do the business, and were fair in their application of how they dealt with those farmers, the mining companies lost their sweet spot in the delivery of those minerals.
“But if they'd dealt in a fair way, then they would have their product online.
“There has to be a fair return back to the people whose lives it ultimately affects.”
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, which is expected to deliver more than $900 million in economic benefits, 900 local jobs and about $1.5 billion in State government royalties over its 30-year lifespan.
Ahead of the NSW election in March, the issue was referred Mr Hunt to assess under the EPBC Act, which was instigated by Mr Joyce’s predecessor in New England, Tony Windsor.
At the time of the federal referral, Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon accused the Abbott government of using the Water Trigger Bill to “pause” the coal mining project long enough to protect the NSW Baird government from “the public outcry on this contentious project”.