LAUNCESTON, Australia, July 14 (Reuters) – A planned Chinese-owned coal mine in Australia has become the latest example in a long line of mud-slinging trumping sensible debate.
While it makes for great headlines, there are few things less edifying than seeing politicians, business and community leaders flinging gratuitous insults at each other.
The stoush is over the Australian federal government’s approval of a A$1 billion ($746 million) coal mine being developed by China Shenhua Energy Co in the Liverpool Plains region of New South Wales state.
It would be something of an understatement to say the 10-million tonne a year project has been controversial, with its approval showing splits in the ruling Liberal National coalition, while prompting threats of civil disobedience from farmers and legal action from a variety of opponents.
The main issue is that the proposed mine, known as Watermark, is in prime agricultural land and there is concern that not only will it take up land that could be used for farming, but also that the mine will deplete or degrade the region’s underground water table.
Barnaby Joyce, the somewhat colourful federal agriculture minister, probably best known outside Australia for threatening to kill actor Johnny Depp’s pet dogs for illegally entering the country, is a vocal opponent of the mine.
He said last week that the approval of the mine, which is within his constituency, was a sign of the “world gone mad,” breaking ranks with Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister who granted the approval with what he termed strict conditions.
Joyce hails from the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition with the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
So far the Liberal-National government has dismissed calls from the opposition Labor Party that Joyce should resign his portfolio if he doesn’t agree with the mine’s approval, but the fact that Joyce has been so vocal does call into question the unity of the coalition.
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Rural groups have also been vocal in denouncing the mine, with farmer and Caroona Coal Action Group head Tim Duddy telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the project was “agricultural genocide”.
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