Did the NSW Government have to pay for the coal licence?

The grey area shows the area to be relinquished by Shenhua (NSW Government).

The NSW Government has reached an agreement to protect (some of) the Liverpool Plains by scaling back the section of the Shenhua Watermark Coal exploration licence that encroached on the flat fertile agricultural land of the plains.

Minister for Resources Don Harwin said the agreement will see the government refunding around $262 million in exchange for 51.4 per cent of the company’s exploration licence being handed back, originally sold to Shenhua by the previous Labor government.

“Any future mining activity will now be restricted to the ridge lands, with a commencement still subject to further management plans and the ongoing monitoring of strict conditions already in place.”

Labor is questioning the money

NSW Labor is calling on the government to cancel the Shenhua Watermark project altogether, criticising the decision to compensate the company $262 million for 51.4 per cent of their exploration licence, which expired in October 2016.

According to the NSW Labor statement, a clause in the exploration license states: “If the licence holder fails to commence substantial development of a mine within eight years of the awarding of the original exploration license… the Minister may cancel any title in place.”

NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley said the decision by the Government will inevitably see mining on the fertile Liverpool Plains, and the payment was unnecessary.

 “It is outrageous that this government will hand back hundreds of millions of dollars for Shenhua Watermark to continue exploration in Liverpool Plains, after it was already given eight years. The exploration licence needs to be cancelled.

“The license holder has not commenced substantial development of a mine, despite receiving an exploration licence almost nine years ago.

“Labor is calling on the NSW Government to shut Shenhua Watermark down because the potential impact to the environment is unacceptable.”

Shadow Minister for Resources Adam Searle added: “While Shenhua Watermark is free to pursue a new lease, even on a smaller parcel of land, the NSW Government is under no obligation to pay them any money and should not do so – but especially after their exploration license has already expired… This is grotesque corporate welfare when they should be investing in new classrooms and hospitals.”

Farmers are not happy, either

Liverpool Plains farmers have reacted angrily to the NSW Government’s announcement that it has bought back only half of the coal exploration licence over the Liverpool Plains owned by Shenhua, allowing the company to go ahead with an open-cut coal mine in the midst of NSW’s food bowl.

Breeza farmer Andrew Pursehouse, whose property adjoins the proposed Shenhua coal mine, said: “We’ve been betrayed by the NSW Government. If it was serious about protecting farmland, it would have cancelled the coal licence outright and stopped this coal mine.

“Carving out areas that Shenhua wasn’t going to mine won’t change a thing. Anything less than the full cancellation of the Watermark Project will fail to protect the farming systems of the Liverpool Plains.

“The community is fully committed to fight this coal mine going ahead no matter what this government decides.”

National campaigner for Lock the Gate Alliance Phil Laird said: “The NSW Government could have cancelled this licence and banned coal mining on our agricultural land. Instead, they are handing tax-payers’ money to a foreign-owned company and waving them through to mine our food bowl. It beggars belief.

“We will support the farming community of the Liverpool Plains to keep this mine out of one of the best agricultural regions in this country.

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