Coal wars in NSW. Gunnedah next casualty.
The invasion of Gunnedah by big coal, and the resistance.
This is a long running saga, so bits and pieces from newspaper websites have been stitched together. The Australian Newspaper in particular manages to split up several aspects of a story into separate pieces, even on the same day, making it harder to “join the dots.”
Shenhua Coal, A Chinese government-controlled mining giant, is in the news again, at the end of April 2012, supposedly spitting the dummy at the NSW coalition government. It has invested already about $600 million in one project around Gunnedah. It has bought lots of land off farmers, and entered the government regulatory process in order to get permission to dig up the coal underneath the Liverpool plains around Gunnedah, and ship it home to burn, to help make our planet grow warmer even faster.
From 2009 onwards, this company started buying up lots of farm properties around Gunnedah, eventually raising some sale property prices past 10 times previous sale values. By June 2011 the company had acquired 43 farms, at a total of $213 million. .
The company has paid the NSW government $300m in 2008 for an exploration license covering 19,500ha, following a competitive bidding process. The Chinese company wants to develop a mine in the basin producing 10 million mt/year of thermal coal for the export market and its Watermark project is expected to go into production in 2013 on its current schedule.
Shenhua has claimed that it would not to mine within 150m of the productive "black soil" farming country, and would only mine “on red soil”.
The spending spree slips under the Foreign investment review board radar, as the Treasury unit only has to investigate investments totaling more than $230m.
The NSW government has reacted by calling for a federal review of the rules governing the foreign buyouts of prime agricultural land. Arguing over media, Mr Bill Shorten said state governments granted mining licences and made decisions about land use while the federal government's role, through the FIRB, was to apply a national interest test.
“ . . .Does it support our national economy, does it improve our trading position, are there implications on jobs? Where it is a government entity from overseas there is no $230 million threshold before the government takes an interest, it's from zero dollars, so Shenhua would have briefed the Foreign Investment Review Board before deals were done. The Foreign Investment Review Board examines all direct investment by foreign government entities. . . .
. . . Mr Shorten said a proposal from independent Senator Nick Xenophon for the threshold trigger to be reduced to $5 million, as in New Zealand, would be considered. . . .”
Shenhua plan to mine the coal, for 30 years, and have said that the mining will “leave no trace”. Since this takes us all up to the catastrophic climate change by 2040, maybe, its the farming inhabitants of Gunnedah that will have disappeared by then without a trace, as agriculture fails with wilting heat and dryness. If already nothing can be done about that, maybe its good for the town, to have one last economic boom before the end. But its only a coal mine, and environmentally poisonous, and relatively fewer jobs with its heavily mechanized extraction techniques. Most of the money will go overseas with the coal.
Shenhua has pledged to leave the region's valuable agricultural and water assets untouched, the social fabric of the area strengthened, and the economy bolstered. It submitted its application for assessment in April 2011.
The NSW government started the environmental impact review process, which was mooted as likely to take 12 months or more. 
New South Wales' resources and energy minister, Chris Hartcher, in September 2011, tightened the conditions of Shenhua's coal exploration license following a campaign by local farmers and residents. The Chinese company, and BHP Billiton which has its Caroona thermal coal project in the same area, were told by the minister their licenses prohibited any open-cut or long wall coal mining in the alluvial flood plain and agricultural areas of the Liverpool Plains region. This will more certainly ensure that the mining “will leave no trace”!
Chris Hartchers media release in September 2011 stated: 
“ . . . The licence of Shenhua Watermark Coal will be subject to tougher conditions and
those of Caroona will be maintained to ensure our valuable agricultural and water
resources have much greater protection than was available under the former Labor
government. . . .”
“. . . The NSW Government will not, under any circumstances, compromise the health
and sustainability of our water resources.”
Co-existence is possible and the Government will continue to work with all
stakeholders to achieve the appropriate balance.
Exploration titles are granted to identify resources and to enable environmental
The granting of renewals of exploration licences in no way moves the applicant any
closer to the granting of a mining lease and any application for a mining lease and
development consent will be subject to a comprehensive assessment process that
provides for full community input. . . . “
Finally , a year later Shenhua received final directions from the New South Wales director general for planning regarding its environmental impact statement for Watermark. Shenhua had become frustrated by the time taken to advance the company's Watermark project through the New South Wales government's planning approvals process.
So the state government has to satisfy two masters. One is the disgruntled foreign investors, who just want to get on with it. Shenshua have been meeting with the Minister for Trade, Andrew Stoner, as the state government fights to ensure Shenhua remains committed to the Watermark coalmine at Gunnedah. The other is the growing public opposition to coal mining and coal seam gas mining, which is coming from two directions now. There are farmers and long term members of rural communities, concerned with long term land care, water care, and also environmental groups concerned with global warming. Shenhua strongly objects to the political interference of farmers and climate change activists. An industry source said: ''Shenhua has made it quite clear it has had enough of what it sees as political interference in NSW.” Whose state is it anyway? Senshua is obviously willing to run political interference of its own.
“A government source has said” 
. . . Why would an investor come to NSW, where it takes four years to get a project approved and into production, when you can do it in less than two in Africa? If [Shenhua] money is withdrawn, it sends an awfully powerful message to other investors when Australia and NSW is seen as a less-attractive option than Africa,'' the source said. . . .
. . . Sources in the O'Farrell government said the approval had been delayed by the paralysis in the Department of Planning, as the government continues to review planning laws and integrate its strategic lands policy. . . . 
So it appears, on trying to interpret these conflicting statements, that the Department of Primary Industry, which appears to have realized there is more to planning than being a rubber stamp, and actually has many long term primary industries to look after, is being attacked by other parts of the NSW Coalition government. This appears to ensure that new planning regulations do not hinder economically powerful foreign investors.
Climate activists would like to leave the coal in the ground, as there is more than enough global warming ahead of us already. But climate change potential of so much coal has not had one single mention in the media, in this saga of the Shenhua invasion of Gunnedah. So its the duty of this article to scream out the silent obvious.
But it appears that the screaming tantrums of Shenhua are having the desired effect, for the Gunnedah Shire Council has said now that it’s confident, (and presumably very happy about this) that the coal mining giant Shenhua Group will move forward with projects in the region. What, or whom does it know that we do not know? Will the department of primary industry be politically beaten up by the mining lobby? Does Chris Hartcher have a political future with the Liberal party?
 Chinese mine giant snaps up 43 NSW farms. The Australian, June 27, 2011
 We'll leave no trace, Chinese miners pledge. The Australian. June 29, 2011
 Tough new conditions for coal exploration http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/400728/Minister-Hartcher-med-rel-end-of-moratorium.pdf ]
 China drops axe on mine spend after 'interference'. Sydney Morning Herald, April 29, 2012. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/china-drops-axe-on-mine-spend-after-interference-20120428-1xrja.html
 Chinese miner's land buyout passed national interest test, says Bill Shorten. The Australian. June 29, 2011
 GUNNEDAH CONFIDENT SHENHUA WILL REMAIN – This is an ASF video, so this authors linux OS will not play it. http://www.nbnnews.com.au/index.php/2012/05/01/gunnedah-confident-shenhua-will-remain-2/