Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he is prepared to halt the development of Shenhua’s Watermark coal mine if the project does not meet the strict conditions he put in place.
Hunt approved the $1.2 billion Watermark coal project last week, but was met by an unprecedented level of public backlash over the decision.
The mine will be located near the Liverpool Plains, home to some of the most highly fertile farms in the country, and farmers are concerned about the project’s water and agricultural impacts.
Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones weighed in on the topic on Wednesday, labelling the mine’s approval by the Abbott government as “disgraceful”,"beyond belief", and tantamount to selling their soul to mining.
Jones berated the mine on air for around 30 minutes, and went as far as to suggest the issue could see both the federal and NSW governments topple at the next election.
This morning, Hunt appeared on 2GB, stating that if conditions around water management are not met, he would not provide final approval for the project.
Hunt said the approval of the mine last week was “conditional” and not final, with Shenhua now tasked with develop operating and management plans to be ready for assessment by the December quarter.
“I will make it a public commitment — when we get this water management plan back I will refer it to the (expert) committee and if they aren’t satisfied, I won’t even approve that,” Hunt told Jones on 2GB.
“That’s above and beyond … anything that’s happened in environmental history.”
Describing the issue as political dynamite for the coalition, Jones said he had spoken to some federal cabinet ministers who agreed with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's opposition to the project.
"The government is in massive trouble here and the public have had a gutful," Jones said.
On Tuesday, NSW Premier Mike Baird told a farming conference Watermark poses no threat to the livelihood of farmers.
"There is no evidence that the Shenhua coal mine will damage the water resource on the Liverpool Plains," Baird said.
Baird said he must follow the scientific evidence when deciding whether or not to grant Shenhua its mining lease.
"The science has come back and it says the impacts aren't there, and there's a range of protection measures that have been put in place," Baird said.
"Now it hasn't proceeded yet, there's no licences come in, but ultimately I'm in a position where I have to rely on the expert advice and that's what I'm going to do."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also come out in support of the project.
"Now, I can fully understand people being absolutely passionate to protect the Liverpool Plains. I've been on the Liverpool Plains, they're some of the best farming area in this country," he told 2GB’s Ray Hadley on Tuesday.
"Mining and agriculture have coexisted for 100-odd years in this country, they can and should continue to coexist in the future.
"As all the science tells us, it's not going to have an impact on the water table. And frankly, if it's not going to damage the farming areas, if it is going to bring billions of dollars’ worth of economic activity and hundreds of ongoing jobs, I think we should say 'let's go with it'."