WHEN Environment Minister Greg Hunt appeared on talkback station 2GB on Thursday morning, it was with the promise the discussion would be vigorous – but polite.
Then, within four minutes, broadcaster Alan Jones was shouting.
Mr Hunt was invited on to the Alan Jones Breakfast Show to defend the federal government's approval of the open-cut Shenhua Watermark mine in the Liverpool Plains of north western NSW. It ended with the minister making a commitment on due diligence that he has "never done before".
Since its approval, farmers and residents have expressed concern the mine could impact on their water supply and affect the fertility of the soil in the key food-growing region.
When Mr Hunt began to explain the basis of the mine's approval, he scarcely spoke for more than 30 seconds at a time before Jones interrupted, branded him "wrong" and demanded answers.
A report in April from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee said planned monitoring of water while the mine was in operation would not be spread over a wide enough area or performed over a long enough time period to work out water quality, get an early warning of any impacts, or detect "post-mining impacts".
Quoting from passages of the report, Jones said there were questions that remained about what the mine would do to its surroundings.
"They don't have the information," Jones shouted.
"How the hell are we approving this before saying to these people, 'If you want approval you're going to have to give us this information.' "
"Well, if you were correct, I would agree with you, absolutely," Mr Hunt responded.
When Mr Hunt began to say the mine would not be on the black soil plains (a claim backed up by Shenhua's mine plan, which says there will be a 150 metre buffer between the mine and the plains) he was interrupted once again.
"Stop. That is not true," Jones said.
"Greg, I'm sorry, you are wrong. I know you went up there for five minutes before the election. You are wrong. You are completely wrong on this."
The grilling comes after Jones railed against the federal Liberals on his show on Wednesday for their part in advancing the approval of the mine, which still requires state approval before it can go ahead.
He continued the attack on Thursday, focusing on NSW Premier Mike Baird and defending Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce for saying the land should not be compromised.
"The real outfit that's in trouble here is the Baird government," Jones said.
"Michael Baird's credibility is on the line here. He's making statements before reading the documents.
"On this, Barnaby Joyce is 1000 per cent correct, and I happen to know, there are people I have spoken to in the federal cabinet who agree with Barnaby Joyce."
In response to the barrage, Mr Hunt said he would consult the Independent Expert Scientific Committee again and publicly report its findings.
"I will do something today that I have never done before, that I am not required to do by law. I will make a public commitment," Mr Hunt said.
"When we get this water management plan back, I will refer it to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, and if they are not satisfied I won't even approve that.
"And that's something which is above and beyond, to the best of my knowledge, anything that has happened in Australian environmental history.
"I respect your views, but I also have to respect the views of the experts in this space."
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