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PHAA claim Shenhua's Watermark mine 'threatens' food security & health

10 July, 2015

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) strongly opposes the federal Environment Minister's decision to approve a new open-cut Shenhua coalmine on the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah in NSW.

The PHAA supports the National Farmer's Federation, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, The Greens and local communities in calling for the go-ahead to be reversed.

"This decision is in no one's best interests except Shenhua with relatively small government royalties. The PHAA shares the community's concern that the threat posed by this development to the biggest groundwater system in the Murray-Darling is unacceptable.

"PHAA strongly opposes Shenhua's Watermark coal mine and is calling on the Minister to consider the health and future food security impacts of the development," said Jude Page, PHAA's NSW Branch President.

"Conditions imposed by the Minister in approving the mine supposedly include the power to stop mining if there are any impacts on agricultural water supply, and if this occurs, the mine must immediately provide an alternate water supply to farmers. But where would alternate water come from if this were to occur?

"If the aquifer is polluted or compromised, the water supply will be decimated and there will be no quick fix. Once this prime agricultural land is removed from food production it can never be returned," said Page.

In February 2015 the NSW government approved the project, but ahead of the NSW election in March, the issue was referred to the federal Environment Minister to assess under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Final approval is now in the remit of the state government, but it is understood the NSW government has no intention of halting the mine.

"The health and quality of life of communities needs to be given priority in planning decisions, not as a peripheral activity but an approach comparable to sustainable economic growth, where the needs of local people and communities are truly at the centre of planning decisions," said Page.

Dr Peter Tait, Convenor of PHAA's Ecology and Environment Special Interest Group said, "of serious concern are the short term gains which will not compensate for the growing need for food security in the context of population growth.

"Australia is already losing productive land due to urban growth, changing weather patterns and water availability issues. The mine's disturbance area of 4084 hectares is twice that of Whitehaven's controversial Maules Creek mine (2178 hectares), the largest coal mine currently under construction in Australia. It is also 1.5 times the land area of the City of Sydney (2670 hectares) and about 1.1 times the City of Melbourne (3735 hectares)."

Page went on to say "PHAA agrees wholeheartedly with the National Farmer's Federation that the decision by both the NSW and Federal governments demonstrates an unwillingness to properly balance the needs of mining industries with those of farmers and food production.  

"Ensuring food security, air quality and sustainability of water resources are high priorities in public health, and we join with farmers and Indigenous leaders in opposing the approval of this development in the interests of both the local and broader Australian communities.

"It is worth remembering that there are increasingly viable alternative sources of energy but there are no alternative sources of food. PHAA is calling on both the Australian and NSW Governments to put the future health of Australians ahead of short term profits in stopping the controversial Shenhua Watermark project," she said.

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