Joyce rules out resigning over mine

10 Jul, 2015 06:05 AM
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce withdrew from an appearance with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Rob Gunstone
No decision maker has had the backbone to do what is necessary
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce withdrew from an appearance with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Rob Gunstone

UPDATED 09:30: AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has ruled out resigning from the frontbench after lashing out at his own government's conditional approval of a massive coal mine in his electorate.

The furore comes as the federal National Party pressures NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant over the potential impact of the mine, which must pass a final Baird government hurdle before proceeding.

On Wednesday, Mr Joyce said: "The world has gone mad" following Environment Minister Greg Hunt's approval for the deeply divisive open-cut Shenhua Watermark mine in the Liverpool Plains, a prime farming region in north-west NSW.

The Nationals MP withdrew from an expected appearance with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Grafton, NSW, on Thursday, but both Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce said it was due to scheduling issues.

On Friday, Mr Joyce ruled out resigning but stepped up his criticism of the decision, telling ABC radio he opposed the mine in his capacity as Agriculture Minister, not a local member.

Mr Joyce also denied suggestions he was publicly opposing the mine to shore up support in his electorate.

"I never agreed with this mine from the start. I've been quite open about that, I think everything I've said on the public record is that I don't agree with it," he said.

However, Mr Joyce's split from the Coalition stance follows an apparent pattern of tension between the Liberal Party and Mr Joyce, who is considered a future deputy prime minister.

Mr Abbott instructed him not to appear on this week's episode of the Q&A program after fallout from the appearance of former terror suspect Zaky Mallah.

The ban prevented Mr Joyce from promoting his highly anticipated agriculture white paper and Mr Joyce reportedly said "it would have been good" to have received more notice.

In March, the white paper's release was reportedly delayed after being heavily scrutinised by senior ministers and cabinet. The ABC quoted senior government figures saying it contained "every crackpot idea" from the past 25 years.

Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon questioned how Mr Joyce could sit in cabinet while railing against the mine decision, saying "he needs to consider his position" on the frontbench.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the mine approval showed Mr Joyce was either "incompetent and lacks influence in cabinet" or worse, did not seek to properly represent his constituents.

Mr Joyce said "the real lack of competence" lay with disgraced former NSW state Labor minister Ian Macdonald, who approved the Chinese government-owned firm's exploration licence.

Mr Joyce said he sought to influence the approval decision by successfully asking Mr Hunt to establish an independent scientific and environmental review of the mine.

He refused to respond to calls to reconsider his cabinet role.

The approval of the Shenhua project has prompted Tony Windsor, the former independent MP for Mr Joyce's seat of New England, to consider running for the seat again.

Abbott's words 'hollow'

Meanwhile, federal Nationals senator John Williams has contacted Mr Grant to express concern over the mine, which he fears will damage aquifers and spread coal dust over the region.

The NSW government must grant a mining license to Shenhua before the project can start.

About $1.5 billion in royalties is expected to flow into the NSW government coffers over the life of the project. The State will also receive $200 million when the mining lease is granted.

Mr Grant's office did not comment. A spokesman for NSW Resources Minister Anthony Roberts said Shenhua was yet to apply for a mining lease, but any approval would require the firm to meet environment and planning laws.

Sarah Hubbard, 27, lives on her parents' crop and cattle farm at Spring Ridge, close to the potential mine site.

She said younger farmers fear the project will permanently damage groundwater supplies.

"I want to stay and live and work here. (The mine) creates total uncertainty for us. We don't know what's going to happen."

In 2010 as opposition leader, Mr Abbott visited the New England electorate and spoke of the "threat ... of mining in some of Australia's best agricultural land".

"The message I am getting loud and clear from locals is that they don't want to destroy this agricultural breadbasket with mining," Mr Abbott said, adding mining should be barred in the region until thorough water studies were done and it was "absolutely crystal clear" that agriculture would not be harmed.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said on Thursday Mr Abbott's words were "hollow".

"No decision maker has had the backbone to do what is necessary, and that (is) to simply say no," she said.

"Local communities have raised serious and real issues in relation to impacts on the agricultural groundwater ... once that groundwater (is) affected, there is no going back."

On Thursday, Mr Abbott, who has described coal as "good for humanity", said the Shenhua mine would be subject to "very strict environmental standards … put in place by a good government that is determined to strengthen our economy while at the same time protecting our environment".

Asked about Mr Joyce's dissent, Mr Abbott said MPs sometimes had to "give voice to the feelings of your constituents while at the same time being a loyal member of the government".

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10/07/2015 7:11:12 AM

Joyce should consider resigning so say two ALP members who very own state minister approved the mine when their Federal Gov was also in power . Just wait, this fight is not lost and Windsor, who sold his farm for mining, is helping Joyce no end by mouthing a return . At least the region is represented by a member who has the ear of the PM
10/07/2015 7:29:35 AM

Don't rely on the Nationals to protect us from the miners, they talk big but are just puppets to the coalition and their mindless pursuit for re-election!
Frank the Furious Farmer
10/07/2015 7:33:54 AM

While Joyce might have the ear of the prime minister, it won't make any difference. The Nationals have some kind of deal with the Libs that prevent them from doing anything useful for agriculture, other than of course making bleating noises in the background tot try and convince farmers that the Nationals represent farming and they should continue to vote for them, just like sheep really!
Peter Comensoli
10/07/2015 8:11:32 AM

OK, let's all vote Independent, ALP or Green...I mean, seriously!? This isn't about MPs or government it's about the relative capability of our lobby compared to that of mining or, well, nearly any other actually. We've done plenty of bleating and they've done plenty of achieving... Sorry, but the pattern fits. Look at us vs the Greens on veg or us vs the ALP on labour cost/benefit. We farmers are too lost in our own little internal issues to be capable of dealing with the large ones. It's very serious but also very endemic.
Ted O'Brien.
10/07/2015 10:17:44 AM

Resign and throw away your only opportunity to have any say at all? That is the mark of a real fool. Barnaby Joyce has spoken loudly against his government. Keep fighting, Barnaby. Inside and out. This whole fiasco started when the capitalist farmer hating Carr government pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars for exploration licences over some of the best farming land in Australia. This deal was so big that now our governments must consider international banks when making decisions on it. Just as the ALP planned.
10/07/2015 10:31:38 AM

I understand that it is on the public record that in early 1995 Queensland Deputy Premier Tom Burns issued his party with a public ultimatum for the Qld Government to phase out coral dredging in Moreton Bay & Queensland Cement Limited's industrial activities in his Lytton electorate or he would resign. It took about a week for the Labor Party to accept Tom Burns' ultimatum and act to apply leverage that resulted in QCL's relocation to an expanded presence in Gladstone.
Ted O'Brien.
10/07/2015 10:32:36 AM

Note that for a cabinet minister to so publicly infer that his government is mad would normally get the minister sacked. It won't get Barnaby Joyce sacked. That is a matter worth noting. This issue should not be considered closed.
Hilda Hereford
10/07/2015 11:26:38 AM

Peter, You miss the point, there are minimal voters in the country where farmers are, as a result it won't matter whom is in power, as a farmer we wil always get second rate treatment from politicians. Voting for any major party will never improve a farmers lot!
Jock Munro
10/07/2015 12:33:44 PM

Barnaby is a legend and he does a fantastic job in dealing with the Liberals and promoting the interests of his rural constituents as do all of the Nationals.
10/07/2015 3:03:18 PM

Idiocy and outrage seem to go hand in hand with every shock headline or half story that emerges. Completely over the top yelping does not help. Calm negotiation and staying in the tent work. As for Greens and Labor, hopeless. Just check how rusted on Labor voters in South Australia are doing, not to mention nonsensical antics from incoming Labor in Victoria. There are plenty of opportunities from the Environment Minister to kill off the proposal as it is no where near started. Take a breath and get a grip.
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