The controversial giant Chinese-owned coal mine on the Liverpool Plains in northern NSW, approved last year by the federal government, has become the opening salvo for the election campaign for Richmond expected to be held later this year.
The surprise announcement this week that federal National Party president Larry Anthony, a former MP for the seat, could be making another tilt for Richmond was seized on by Labor’s sitting MP Justine Elliot, who said he was ‘not welcome’ because of his lobbying work for the Shenhua open-cut coal mine.
But the Greens candidate for Richmond Dawn Walker then called on Mrs Elliot to clarify her party’s official position on the mine, saying the Labor Party leadership at both a state and federal level had been silent on whether it supported the mine or not.
Ms Walker said the Shenhua issue and ‘the need to phase out fossil fuels will be a defining issue of the upcoming federal election and currently the Greens are the only major party with a clear position in opposition to all new coal, gas and other fossil fuel developments’.
Mrs Elliot this morning said she was opposed to the mine, but failed to say where Labor stood on the issue.
In a brief two-sentence statement, her spokesman told Echonetdaily that the decision to approve the Shenhua mine was made by the federal and state Liberal-National governments.
‘Justine opposes the Shenhua coal mine and believes the local community was sold out by the National Party,’ the spokesman said.
But Ms Walker said that ‘while I agree that Larry Anthony’s time as a lobbyist for Shenhua and other fossil fuel companies should render him unfit to represent our region, it is also true that the Labor leadership at both a state and federal level have been shamefully silent on whether they support this mine or not’.
‘Justine Elliot should clarify what Labor’s official position is on opening a new coal mine in our food bowl, especially as the federal Labor party have consistently voted against Greens motions in Parliament calling for the Shenhua mine to be stopped.’
The Shenhua Watermark coal mine was approved by federal environment minister Greg Hunt last July and the state coalition government has to grant the company a lease to build and operate the mine before the project can go ahead.
The mine has raised concerns about the future of agriculture in the area and drawn many protests statewide.
Federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, whose New England electorate includes the Liverpool Plains, opposed the mine and labelled it ‘ridiculous’. The National Party MP says it will be located in the middle of Australia’s best agricultural land.
Shenhua, a Chinese company, plans to extract up to 10 million tonnes of coal from the open cut mine each year for 30 years.
The Liverpool Plains region has high levels of peanut, sorghum, cotton, barley and tomato production.
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