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Govt’s thermal coal report won’t end land conflict between communities and industry

The Berejiklian Government’s “Strategic Statement on coal exploration and mining” is a small step in the right direction but a missed opportunity to decisively address land use conflict and diversification. 

The statement is accompanied by a map identifying broad areas where there will be “No proactive releases for coal exploration” but where mining companies will still be allowed to expand their existing exploration activities, including on strategic farmland.

The statement foreshadows new measures to strengthen mine rehabilitation requirements, improve protections for air quality and water resources, and to work with coal mining regions to diversify their economies.

However, Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the report lacked substance because it failed to provide specific policies or a timeline for these measures, even while new and expanding coal mining projects were under consideration by the government. 

She said, “Reform of land use planning and mining conflict is long overdue so this is a step in the right direction, but the Berejiklian Government is still leaving land use conflict in farming areas in the too hard basket and putting water resources at risk of long-term damage and depletion. 

“If we are going to manage the strategic challenges ahead for regional communities, we have to make sure core industries like farming are safe from further encroachment by coal mining and we need to make sure coal mining is not depleting water resources and leaving future generations with an environmental debt.

“Unfortunately, the Berejiklian Government seems content to base its economic strategy on global failure to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement which means a catastrophic global heating scenario.

“It is particularly distressing that Deputy Premier John Barilaro has sought to tie the economic recovery needed in response to the recent devastating bushfires to the coal industry, given the role coal plays in the changing climatic conditions that made the fires so severe in the first place.

"People and communities in coal mining regions will be affected by climate change just as much as everyone else in New South Wales and the world as rainfall patterns change and heat intensifies. Mr Barilaro isn't doing regional communities a favour by pretending otherwise."

The “Strategic Statement” on coal shows an expected contraction of coal demand in NSW’s key customer countries Japan, South Korea and China from now on, partially offset by increasing demand from South East Asia, but overall a slow and steady decline from 2030. 

“The NSW Government’s recognition that a transition to new energy sources in Asia will reshape and disrupt regional communities that currently rely on the export coal industry is welcome, but urgently needs to be backed with practical financial and policy support, particularly in the Hunter region,” Ms Woods said.

Hunter Renewal spokesperson Danielle Coleman said, “The Hunter region has contributed to the prosperity of New South Wales for many decades and now needs practical and financial support from the Berejiklian Government to get investment flowing into new industries that can replace jobs that will be lost in coal mining and exports.

“Experiences around the world have shown that the work of adjusting to coal market decline takes a generation. The Hunter region has the leadership and the skills to make that adjustment while honouring our proud industrial history and protecting our environment. We just need the Berejiklian Government to back us with money and policy.”

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