What happens to a farming community when mining comes to town?
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - 20:30

The rural towns of Acland and Oakey in regional Queensland are facing a new battle between miners and farmers.

The New Acland open cut coal mine, owned and operated by New Hope Group, has been in operation since 2002. But a long-running push for expansion has faced opposition and delays.

This week, Insight brings together stakeholders and townsfolk to discuss the economic, environmental and health impact of the mine and what expansion may mean for generations to come.

Tanya Plant’s family lives about two kilometres from the mine. Since the mine opened she has experienced both dust and noise problems. “One of my daughter’s just coughed and coughed and coughed like every night for about eight or nine months,” she said. Tanya says there is a lot of mistrust and feels the mine’s owners haven’t done the right thing by the community.

Matt Tonscheck used to be a dairy farmer before be switched to mining when business went bust. “There was no future for me on our farm when deregulation came in.” The father-of-two said the transition has been easy and is happy with the mine’s management.  

Noel Wieck is worried about the future. He invested millions in his dairy farm following the LNP’s promise not to expand and now fears the Darling Downs soil could be ruined. “It’s been cropped for 130 years and would be forever more, but once it’s mined its second-rate grazing country.”

As the State Government reviews the approval process, we ask our guests: how can the land be maximised for both agricultural and resource use?


Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, or posting on our Facebook page.

Before and after: Satellite images show open cut mines in Australia

These before and after photos, each several kilometres wide, show how surface mining is changing the Australian landscape. See photos 

Video: The last man in Acland

What would you do if you lived in a booming country town and then all of a sudden everyone else left? Watch Glen Buetel's interview with SBS2's The Feed

Video: Why is the Shenhua mine so controversial?

The Feed travels to the Shenhua mine site in north-western NSW where locals are considering legal action to stop the mine's development. Link to story

Episode Recap: Your Say

Scroll to read a selection of your comments on this episode. 



AILEEN HARRISON: We had our house set up for our old age, we had it all set up for the Alpacas – it just became absolutely unliveable, so we have walked away from our home. The have put this shed here but that is my place. There’s not too much left of it now by the look of it. Look at it? When I see this mess on my beautiful place, how would you think?

Well, it’s a bit of a mess in there, this is where all the things I can’t fit in my house, there’s still many many boxes of things, there’s chairs, there’s beds, there’s pool table, there’s lounge suites because I have got no room for it in the house, in the dongers. I was always proud of my house - I’m ashamed of this place.

MAN:  I believe that we should not let the bullying tactics of some of our opponents make us feel ashamed to be a part of this mine or surrounding communities that I love. I am proud to be a coalminer and proud to work in New Acland Coal Mine.

WOMAN:  The mine is infrastructure we need to keep small towns like Oakey alive, without the mine our businesses suffer, our house prices lower and we’ll struggle to keep our beautiful little town afloat.


JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everybody, good to have you with us here tonight. Aileen, let's go back a little bit. Your family farmed around Acland, you returned in 1998 with a very specific plan, what was that plan you had? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  Well the plan was I built my dream home that we'd worked all our lives for and set it up for my golden years with, you know, the things that you need as you get older to make life easy and we moved into that in 1998. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And this was on your daughter's property? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  It was on our daughter and son-in-law's property.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Was there talk of mining then? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And how far did the mine end up being from your house eventually? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  From 1.2 to 2 kilometres at all times. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Was it operating 24/7? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  It sure was. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did that affect you? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  Well, the dust was like living in a dust storm twenty four hours a day for up to ten days at a time, but at night time it was always like that as soon as the night air came in. The noise was worse than a demolition site twenty four hours a day and if we did have an early, a night that we thought it was going to be no noise, it came up through the floor because they obviously were so deep down in the pits and things. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So initially did you think that you'd stick it out? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  Well, yes, well when they started they told us we wouldn't have any effects from it whatsoever. But even right in the very start of it we suddenly had gone from being a very quiet area to having quite a lot of noise through the night. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how long was it before you decided to sell the property to the mine? 

AILEEN HARRISON:  Well, we tried to sell round about 2007, I suppose, and went to the agents and they said oh, there's no use us bringing anyone out here, they won't, they'll just drive in and see that mine there and that will be it. So we had to get New Hope to try and buy us, we had some terrible experiences through that time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Matt, how long has your family been farming in the area? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  Well granddad he was, he started there, the Tonschecks and the Generics were sort of my background and they've been in the area all their, all their lives so you can go back to great grandparents. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you used to be a farmer? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  I used to, we used to dairy farm and when the deregulation came in that was the end of me. And so I was lucky enough, I had an uncle that was in the mining industry and he got me an interview and I got a traineeship with Thiess and I went up and did that and as soon as I knew, as soon as I caught wind that Acland mine was going to open up, I kept harassing them till I got a job there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how long have you been mining? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  Fifteen years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did your family and the rest of the local community react to you becoming a miner? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  It was a sad day, not when I was a miner but it was a sad day when I left the farm. But in terms of mining, yeah, there was never, it was always, yeah, encouragement. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you see yourself going back to farming now? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  Well, about five years ago I bought the original home block off mum and dad so that's where my wife and kids live there now and so on my days off I farm and on my… 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how close is that to the mine? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  We're about fifteen, sixteen K's flight of the crow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So a lot further away than Aileen is? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Don, you work at the Acland mine but you also farm, how did you feel when the mine first came? 

DON BALLON:  When the mine first came I was like a lot of other people, it was the unknown and we heard all these big bad stories like you do and I was with everyone else, I really didn't want it there. But because we didn't know, that's all it was, once they got started and we got over the initial people that were dealing with it in the early stages, we found that they did do what they said they were going to do. They did rehabilitate, they did do that side of stuff.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay.   So you're happy with the way that the mine operates? 

DON BALLON:  I am happy with it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How far are you from the mine? 

DON BALLON:  From the centre of the pit at the moment I'm 3.2 kilometres; at the closest to where it got me I was 1.6. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And have you had health problems? 

DON BALLON:  No.  I've raised my family there for the whole time it's been there and we don't have any problems. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how do you react to Aileen?  I mean you're not that far, each of you isn't that far away? 

DON BALLON:  Well Aileen was my neighbour across the road so, yeah, I mean if she needed to go, she needed to go, but I'm quite happy there and there's no, there's no problem to us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tanya, how close is your farm to the mine? 

TANYA PLANT, CATTLE FARMER:  My house is probably a little bit over two kilometres were the wash plant.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what's it been like for you and your family? 

TANYA PLANT:  It's been really stressful and really awful. The noise has been a really big problem that we didn't anticipate before the mine came. And we've got questions about, you know, we've had some health issues in our family and it's hard to know exactly what the cause is but we have some worries. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of things? 

TANYA PLANT:  Well, for example, one of my daughter's just coughed and coughed and coughed like every night for about eight or nine months when they were working a pit closest to us and so you know, we're concerned that if they get stage three approved and they end up, you know, mining a pit that close to us again from where they are now that that could be a problem again. But it's interesting Don mentioned the fear of the unknown sort of thing because before the mine came to the district, you know, none of us knew what a coal mine was going to be like and so there was a group of about fifty odd farmers that got together and approached New Hope to try and find out what the impacts were going to be, what if any impacts there were going to be in terms of dust or noise or water or community and that sort of thing and New Hope actually refused to provide any of that information to farmers and the farmers actually had to go to the Land Tribunal to try and get that information. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how long ago was this that you were trying to get it? 

TANYA PLANT:  That was in 2001. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So early on? 

TANYA PLANT:  Yeah, that was before they started stage one.  There's a lot of mistrust there. You know, I'm very concerned. 


TANYA PLANT:  Well, that's probably a pretty long story but I mean there's been a lot of times where we've, we've felt that they haven't done the right thing by the community or they led people to believe that something good would happen and it didn't. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Jim Randell, I want to get a response from you to this because you run the mining at Acland. Mistrust, you know, has the company done the right thing by the people living there? 

JIM RANDELL, EXEC. GM MINING, NEW HOPE:  I think we're, I think it's unfortunate that we've got some people in the community who don't trust us.  We work very hard to gain that trust and I understand that we've got to continue to do that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about providing information though, the kind of information that Tanya is talking about, just what the impacts of the mine would be? 

JIM RANDELL:  Well information is always available from my point of view. There's an EA, and…

JENNY BROCKIE:   There are heads shaking over here saying no? 

JIM RANDELL:  Sure, I understand that. However, the information is available in public documents with the Environmental Authority which gives the list of, of levels at which we're allowed to make…

JENNY BROCKIE:   But what about the work that you've done, you know, around the impacts of the mine?  I mean is it true that it had to go to Court to get, to get that information, to try to get that information as Tanya suggested? 

JIM RANDELL:  Certainly not in my time and in terms of my looking back with our legal people, no, I'm not aware of that. But I wasn't there at the time so I can't put my hand to my heart but I'm not aware of those things, no. 

TANYA PLANT:  It's on the web. 


TANYA PLANT:  The Judgment of that case is on the web, like it's publicly available information that farmers had to go to Court to get that information. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Has it changed Tanya?  I mean we're talking timeframes here, what you're talking about was in 2001 I think you said? 

TANYA PLANT:  Yeah, sure, but since then, for example, like when we were very concerned about our daughter coughing a lot and having a lot of trouble with the noise, making it very difficult to sleep and waking our children up and distressing them a lot, we actually, my husband had to take time off work and we engaged with New Hope quite a lot at that stage.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, I'll get a quick response from you Jim on this? 

JIM RANDELL:  Yeah, I recollect that situation. The issue was that measurements of noise is a very complex measurement and what we asked Tanya to do was come and speak with the noise expert so that we could explain the noise issues in context. We called a numbers of times and to date we still haven't had that meeting.  Those results are still there, ready available. 

TANYA PLANT:  We did meet with the noise expert at Jim's office and last time I met with Jim just a couple of weeks ago I said look, what else do need to understand before you're prepared to give me the access to the data at our place and if I recall correctly Jim you said I'm not sure. You'd get back to me on that. 

JIM RANDELL:  Yeah, right.  My understanding there is that we're still awaiting that meeting where we have the noise expert involved. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, how close do you live to the mine Jim?

JIM RANDELL:  Oh, probably just a little over a kilometre. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What impact do you think the mine has had on the community?  

JIM RANDELL:  Well, from my point of view, it's difficult for me to say. I get different, different reports but we do an awful lot of measurement and we've got monitors around the mine everywhere and those, those, those things tell us that we're really not having an impact in excess of the Environmental Authority.  And in many cases, when we have people who are unhappy, even if we are in compliance with the Environmental Authority, we go out of our way to try and reduce that impact on people. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, can I get a reaction from some of the other people here who live in the area, anyone else like to speak up? Grant? 

GRANT WIECK, DAIRY FARMER:  My comment to that Jenny would probably be what community? I grew up, going to school at Acland, the Acland school closed down probably five or six years after our family had no longer involvement with the school. As far as the association of the local community with Acland, it's been trashed and there is no community.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about jobs though, it's provided jobs? 

GRANT WIECK:  How many jobs did it take out? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, can I ask you that Shane, you're Managing Director of the group that owns the mine.  How many people do you employ? 

SHANE STEPHAN, MD, NEW HOPE:  So currently at Acland there's 280 full time direct jobs, plus 160 contractors employed at the operation. Indirectly, it's estimated that in excess of 2,000 people are reliant for their employment upon the Acland operation. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how does that compare to the jobs and the agricultural land that's been lost?

SHANE STEPHAN:  One must remember that of those people that are employed directly on our mine, in excess of forty actually are still on the land and they utilise their employment at the mine to supplement their income off the land. The current operation at Acland injects $300 million a year into the South East Queensland economy and $100 million a year of that in the Darling Downs region alone. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, are there ways that the community's benefiting from the mine? 

TANYA PLANT:  I strongly feel that the net benefit, well the net position is negative. There's a lot you can say about that but we've certainly lost a lot of people from the community as Grant mentioned, we've lost a lot of the people that were contributing to the CWA and the various schools and the local fire brigade and all of that sort of thing and I guess it's been very divisive, particularly now.  But on the economic issue, it's possible that mining might make slightly more per acre for the years that it's operating but if you consider that farming is a sustainable industry and look at it on the longer term, there's certainty a lot of data out there that shows that a lot has been lost from the local economy since the mine began operating.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you want to say Shane? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  Well, when we finish mining, we rehabilitate the land and we are industry leaders in our rehabilitation practice and we've had third party verification of the standard to which we've rehabilitated our land back to grazing. We own that land, it's in our economic best interest to rehabilitate it to a high standard. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Grant, what are you so dismissive of this? 

GRANT WIECK:  I suppose you have to take into context what the land was capable prior to mining and what it will be condemned to forever now forever more. Perhaps you could argue that a couple of the properties in the very early stages of stage one and two were located on the top of the ridges and the depth and quality of the soil may not have been quite been there but the remaining of landscape, the net value of production per acre of that land prior to mining was at a very high standard. We're not talking about returning it to a high level of grazing either, standard of grazing, it's class 3 I think at best, which I suppose you'd call rubbish as opposed to rich fertile farming soil. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Dave Cooper, you run a maintenance and earthmoving business and you work with the mine and the farmers, so both groups here, what do you think about the impact of the mine on the community? 

DAVE COOPER: I live - I lived for ten year right across from the mine, less than a kilometre from it, used water out of the bore hole there.  We have thirty staff that rely, you know, on the income from that mine site and we have, you know, president of the soccer club in my staff, we had, you know, the guys that run the rugby league club, we support all of the local events. I can't fault them. They, my brother died earlier this year and they had the management come to the funeral and put a wreath. It's been first class, the relationship.  They built up a business that I had which was only me with a tool trailer to what it is today. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you think the mine has actually built the community in a sense? 

DAVE COOPER: Oh, yeah, I'm in community groups and yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what do you think is the majority view in the area about the mine? 

DAVE COOPER: Oh, absolutely 100 percent behind it. I know there's an element of people that don't like it but yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, can I get a reaction to that? I mean are the people reacting in the minority then? 

NOEL WIECK, DAIRY FARMER:   I've been farming on our property for 55 years. We've been dealing with history up to this point of this show. I look at the future now, what's this mine going to offer to the future?  They're offering twelve years more mining when they get, stage 3 gets approved, and then what?  You're dealing with the industry now and we can't take climate change out of this equation, we must focus on what climate change is doing to our country and to our world, and coal is the killer as far as climate change goes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So do you think there should be no mining with coal? 

NOEL WIECK: Coal is going to kill the world if we keep digging up coal. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, what do other people think about this? What's the view, yes, Sid? 

SID PLANT: It's definitely a sunset industry and honestly, if you can care about the climate of the world and how it's going to be, we're basically locked in three and a half degrees now, people will die.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Shane, dying industry and short term gain for long term, you know, damage? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  The stage three application will extend the life of the mine for twelve years and that will generate enormous wealth and employment in the district. Stage three will employ 435 people. The bigger question with regards to the future of coal, coal currently is responsible for approximately 41 percent of the world's electricity generation. It's anticipated by most forecasters that over the next 25 to 30 years that market share will decline, but coal will still represent a large proportion of that electricity generation supply.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Now Glenn, you've lived in the Acland township for most of your life. You still live in your family home there. How many people still live in the town of Acland? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  I have two houses, I bought the old bakery house from its then owner in the mid '70's and I rent that out to a family of five and myself makes six. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Six people left in the town itself? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And why are you still there? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  Well I haven't made a decision to leave. Usually when people leave they have a place where they aspire to move to or for reasons of health or other things so that hasn't affected me yet. It's home.

ANN LUKE: How many people were in the town, we're going from where to where? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  Well there's about fifty odd houses moved out so probably 100 to 150 people. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So there's you and a family of five that you rent to? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  Yes.  And the wildlife. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And the wildlife.  And how close id the mine to your house?

GLENN BEUTEL:  Stage two abutted the town and they're currently drilling on the edge of town. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So it's right near your place? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  On the concluding stages it would be a few hundred metres at a guess. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how do you feel about Acland now that you're living such an isolated life in the town, that everyone else has gone? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  I feel about my home the same as I've always felt about it and it's a refuge for me.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you're clearly very attached both to the house and to the area? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you thought about leaving? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  Not really, no. I haven't had to, I don't know whether I could. 

JENNY BROCKIE: So Glenn, what do you think of the mine? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  When you see what they've done to Acland, they've, it's been their decision to hastily and prematurely remove the houses they bought, they demolished three perfectly good brick homes, they removed about forty maturing bottle trees from the town, all of those trees were homes for fauna and part of the greening of Acland when the community put into a lot of effort to establish the park and street verges and tree planting. For any stranger coming there now, they would see a town that is presented as almost worthless and the farm land which is presented as almost worthless, you can only come to the conclusion that they are bullies and unscrupulous. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, I want a response to that, Jim? 

JIM RANDELL:  If I could, yes.  I respect Glenn's position and his concerns. From my position, the houses were purchased again as willing sellers and willing buyers. Many of those houses, in fact most of those houses had large amounts of asbestos in them and so required some work to do and in many cases it was better for to us remove those asbestos.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But I want to get back to Glenn?  I'm just interested in how you two talk to one another? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   About what's going on or what's gone on? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   In Acland.  What do you say to him? 

JIM RANDELL:  I have little contact with glen, he's not real impressed with me and I accept that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What would you say to him now? 

JIM RANDELL: I'd say to Glen I respect what you're doing, not a problem. I've come from a small town myself that has changed over the period of our lives, similar to Glenn.  I've lived next door to coal mines similar to Acland and those coal mines fell on hard times once the trains, the steam system fell out in Queensland and moved to diesel and about 1957 we found coal mines such as Acland, Howard, Bluff, Collinsville, Frogmore, all those towns saw a falling off. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, so you would just say this is an inevitable part of change? 

JIM RANDELL:  I'm saying…

JENNY BROCKIE:   In a town like Acland? 

JIM RANDELL:    I'm saying it's a part of change, yes, and many other places have gone through it and I respect and acknowledge Glenn's position and concern and hurt over that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and Glenn?

GLENN BEUTEL:  The recent history of Acland isn't a natural evolution of change, it's this blatant destruction. So Acland wasn't a dying town as New Hope described it, it was very gently, quietly growing down. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you think it had a future is what you're saying? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   You think it had a future as a town? 

GLENN BEUTEL:  Fifty kilometres from a major inland city Toowoomba, twenty kilometres from a reasonable service centre at Oakey and affordable housing and a pleasant environment. 


GRANT WIECK:  I’m the fourth generation of the Wieck family to operate the property. With five children, it’s possible – okay – that the next generation may want to come onto the farm as well. We spent in the order of three million dollars including nearly an acre of shed for the cows to live in, padded mattress in stalls to keep them comfortable, manure removal system and robotic milking, so I was positive about putting first class technology into it cause I would be here for a long time.



JENNY BROCKIE:   Grant, you and your father Noel are dairy farmers, you live beside the Acland mine.  And you thought the mine was finishing up? 

GRANT WIECK:  That's correct.  It appeared that the labour government, the previous Bligh labour government wasn't looking favourably on a stage three at Acland, the L&P and given an undertaking that prior to the 2012 state election that there would be no stage three at Acland.  We even had our local Member basically put her name to the, to a statement saying that they were going to protect the agricultural land and Acland's sunset was definitely nigh. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So when did you find out that an expansion of mine was likely? 

GRANT WIECK:  It was around the time I suppose just after the 2012 election. The revised project came out and I suppose it, it sparked the fears that we had of it affecting our water again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you feel about it? 

GRANT WIECK:  I suppose betrayal is the cleanest word I'm allowed to use from a political aspect.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Jim, how big is stage three of the Acland mine expansion that you want to go ahead with?

JIM RANDELL:  Acland three, Acland stage three is currently designed to go till 2029 and it will be about ten kilometres from the township of Oakey. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Clearly the proposed mine is going to make, you know, have a much bigger impact on the area and where that arrow is where you are Glenn, virtually now surrounded by the mine once stages three goes ahead, yeah? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Shane, what percentage of royalties will the Queensland government get from stage three of the mine? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  We pay royalties in accordance with state legislation. The royalties are paid to the state, they're also paid to third parties who…

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what percentage will the State Government get? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  Well the percentage will depend upon what the sale price is of the coal at that time. 

GRANT WIECK:  No, the percentage depends on the portion of land where you have to pay royalties to the government and the portion of land where you have to pay royalties to third parties, most of which is one of your subsidiary companies. 

SHANE STEPHAN:  The royalty is a percentage of revenue. Revenue is the determined by…

GRANT WIECK:  What Jenny's asking is a percentage you pay the government as opposed to the percentage you pay to third parties. 

SHANE STEPHAN: And that is very difficult to tell you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you were able to tell the Queensland, the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament. I mean you wrote a letter to the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament here, I've got a copy of it, where you said, based on these land area calculations, the estimated average royalty split from new Acland stage three is, and the royalties divided up as follows:  The New Hope group gets 77 percent, other land owners get 16 percent and the state gets 7 percent. Is that correct, you wrote that? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  That's an estimate and that letter says that that is an estimate.  We pay all the royalties that we are required to pay. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yes, sure, and I'm not suggesting that you're not doing that, but I guess what it does show is if the state is only getting 7 percent and the company's getting 77 percent, then you know, the proportion that's going back into the coffers of the State Government is very small compared to the proportion that's going to the company. 

SHANE STEPHAN:  As, due to the royalties, that's correct. The state benefits through the employment of the people because of payroll taxes.  Over the last ten years we've paid over $30 million to the State Government in payroll taxes. So royalties are only one of the benefits that accrue from the operation of the Acland coal mine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay Grant, what are your main concerns about stage three?

GRANT WIECK:  Aside from a philosophical point on prime agriculture of the land, primarily for us it's underground water particularly basalt water. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why is basalt water important? 

GRANT WIECK:  That water is what our stock rely on for drinking. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how is it different to other types of water, basalt water? 

GRANT WIECK:  Basalt bore water is very soft and in terms of hardness of bore water and tends to be lower in salt. In most cases it's perfectly drinkable straight out of the ground. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Matthew, you are a hydrologist, you haven't worked for either side in this debate. I want to make that clear because I think it's important to make that clear. Explain to us how open cut mining works in terms of the water supply?  

MATTHEW CURRELL, RMIT UNIVERSITY:  Well, so in terms of the impact on ground water from an open cut mine, it's actually pretty simple. If you want to dig into the ground and excavate coal to mine it and water table is in the way, you need to pump the water out to stop it from inflowing into the mine and so in this case I believe the pit is going to be approximately 75 metres down. So obviously that would interact with the current level of the water table to quite a significant depth and so there would be significant inflow of ground water from the surrounding area towards the mine. And I guess the concern for people who have, you know, ground water bores in the surrounding region is you know, that the impact of that dewatering could be, you know, across a large area in this region. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So it could just deplete the water supply substantially? 

MATTHEW CURRELL:  Essentially yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE:   For farmers?  So can it be permanent damage? 

MATTHEW CURRELL:  Certainly, yes, because when you create a big void in the water table, naturally all the water from the surrounding area is going to flow towards that point and so even to some extent as the, you know, even if the mine pit is filled in and the land rehabilitated, it's a very long period of catch up where the water is constantly trying get into that low point. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How long? 

MATTHEW CURRELL: Decades, hundreds of years.  In terms of big regional systems, like if you're talking about the whole Great Artesian Basin, I mean the time of recharge at one end and discharge to the other end is they reckon about a million years.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Jim, can the mine guarantee that it won't seriously deplete the water supply or damage the aquifer? 

JIM RANDELL:  If we talk about what we've done, we have a model that's been developed by a group called the SOR.  That model has been calibrated against thirteen years’ experience with the mine and to date we've had no aberrations from that model.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But how accurate is it a science trying to actually assess this stuff?

JIM RANDELL:  Again, what I'm saying is that we go conservative. So the numbers that are being quoted here are our conservative estimates of what is likely to happen.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But it's not an exact science, is it? I mean, you know, you can't, you can't guarantee that this model is going to actually, or can you Matthew?  Can you guarantee that the model will… 

MATTHEW CURRELL:  So you know, as hydrogeologists we need to be honest with people that ground water models are not always going to perfectly predict what's going to happen when we do something like mine or start pumping in a new area.  A model is a great tool to get a better understanding of the hydrogeology of an area but it is only as good as the data that you collect in the field that you put into that model.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But mining isn't a new thing in Australia, I mean we've got mines all over the place. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And there hasn't been that kind of damage or has there been that kind of damage in some mines? 

TONY WINDSOR, FMR. MEMBER NEW ENGLAND:  Jenny, one of the things that's happening now that people don't fully comprehend is the scale of some of these mines. On the Liverpool Plains, for instance, it's proposed that BHP and the Chinese government company Shenhua, they would like to put in mega mines between the two of them of a billion tonnes. Most mines in the past have been quite small. It's the scale that's taken place in the last few years.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you see that as a bigger threat to the water? 

TONY WINDSOR:  Within the New South Wales, I'm not familiar with the Queensland planning processes but within the New South Wales processes, the word risk isn't mentioned. Cumulative risk isn't mentioned. Cumulative impact isn't mentioned. Each mine is examined as if it was in a particular perimeter and concern controls within that perimeter, when you add large volumes of ground water to that sort of system and then other mines and then other coal seam gas wells, et cetera, also proposed on the Liverpool Plains, you run into a planning process that needs much greater scrutiny. 

Now on the Liverpool Plains, for instance, it has the biggest ground water system in the Murray Darling system and we don't fully understand the connectivity issues between ground water systems as well as the surface water systems, and there is a real need for people to get their heads around the magnitude of potential risk on some of these ground water systems.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, response? 

JIM RANDELL:  I'd just like to say Jenny that I'm pleased to hear Matt talk about the monitoring.  Again I stress that we've done the nested monitoring, we've got the monitoring around and it is not like we're just going ahead without doing that monitoring, feeding that in an iterative process  so I'm very pleased to hear him say that because I think we'll probably,  it should be somewhere we can get together and talk. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what do you think of the monitoring of in this situation? 

MATTHEW CURRELL:  Look, I can only go on what the IESC advice said and what I've even in the mine's EIS but I feel that the numbers of monitoring bores used to come up with their model predictions of how much impact it will have on the water table were probably not adequate for the scale of the project.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Tony, did you want to say something? 

TONY WINDSOR:  The Dartbrook mine in the Hunter Valley, their modelling showed that they'd be able to handle the water issues and the Hunter Valley doesn't have great water issues compared to some of these new developments. That mine is not operating now because there's too much water. So their model didn't indicate their future, the reality, the Bengala mine near Muswellbrook, similar impacts. It is very, very difficult to find any mine where reality reflects the model.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Noel, just out of interest, how much water do you rely on? Do you need as a dairy farmer? 

NOEL WIECK:  Just to run just the dairy herd itself would require something like 30,000 litres a day.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, and how much do you rely on water, Sid? You're a beef farmer, do you need as much?

SID PLANT:  10 litres a second. If we've got cattle somewhere we've got to get ten litres a second of water into that trough and if we've got 600 head of cattle at the moment, or 700 or 800, whatever, they're going to require, depending on whether they're lactating or all sorts of things, somewhere between 30 and 50 litres a day. If my bores go dry and my neighbour's go dry, where is the water going to come from?  They talk about made good agreements for water, I’m not exactly sure what that means. We don't really want sewerage water from Toowoomba which they're using to suppress dust and stuff, we want potable water for our cattle and if the cattle are there today they want it today.  But I can’t see how we will get an agreement where I can relax and believe that if our water disappears, they are going to look after us.


JIM RANDELL:  It's an unfortunate term, make good agreement. It assumes something bad is done. But the agreement is part of the water act, it's also part of the coordinator general's conditions and we would go through that. The reality is our modelling shows into impact on Sid's place but should it happen and Sid needs that agreement to be confident, then we would look at a form of agreement that meets all his concerns. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Phil Ruthven in Melbourne, you're an economic and social forecaster, you've been listening to all of this so what do you think when you hear this debate going on about, about the use of the land?

PHIL RUTHVEN, IBIS WORLD:  Well first of all I think we have to face realities and the market has already decided that the mining industry is four times bigger than the agricultural industry and that's because that's what the Asia Pacific markets want. I think we've got every right to question whether we're doing that in a way that's as safe as possible, but we've got to remember that agriculture is a very tiny, tiny industry in Australia - it's only 2 percent of the entire economy.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How do you strike a balance though with this? I mean what is more important to our long term economy, crops or mining? 

PHIL RUTHVEN:  Well if I was to look at Jenny say toward the end of this century, we do have a big food security issue to address in this part of the world. And that's already showing up now with the very great interest for multinationals, and particularly from China, wanting to get involved with our agriculture, and they're talking about 1 billion dollars at a time so they're not mucking around at all. We're barely 1 percent of the Asia Pacific population sitting on 35 percent of its land and of that in terms of arable land. So I think we can't afford to be very narrow, very regressive, we have to move with the market place and particularly be a part of the region rather than have a dog in a manger attitude just within Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So do you think that means we should embrace mining at the moment? 

PHIL RUTHVEN:  Well I think as one of the earliest comments were made, coal is something we don't like really, but morally we can't just turn it off today because we think that it's bad. We have to make the best of it and in many cases it's going to be the lesser of two evils. See bearing in mind too with agriculture there's very few jobs in agriculture, agriculture is the least profitable industry in the whole of Australia.  Most of the children don't want to inherit the farm any more from their parents because they think it's not going to pay them very much. Mining won't stop growing in this country until about 2028 so we've got at least another thirteen years of very strong growth just to supply Asia Pacific with what it wants. So we're going to have to make the best of that before we can even look at agriculture as a big, faster growing industry than it's been.

TONY WINDSOR: Why would you risk the food producing capacity of those water resources and that unique soil mix, why would we risk that for thirteen years of economic activity. It’s a crazy position to take.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Noel?

NOEL WIECK:  Climate change is a big issue here, now the morality of that man who spoke on the TV before now, he is so out of touch with reality as far as the moral issue is involved here. We are probably three generations from the extinction of the human race if we don’t get on top of climate change, people are saying it is almost at the point of no return, it is so serious – climate change. Now you know, the previous labour government in Queensland, we're going to double agriculture in Queensland in the next forty years. The next government, the L&P, said we're going to double cattle production.  Look at Queensland now, 80 percent drought declared. Sale yard prices have doubled in the last twelve months because of shortage of cattle and yet new abattoirs are planned.


JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Yes, Phil? 

PHIL RUTHVEN:  Look, there's an old Australian saying, it's called get real. Now the first thing is even if there'd been no mining in Australia over the last ten or fifteen years of the boom, and this is the sixth boom we've had since 1788, if there had been no boom agriculture would still be declining the way we're doing it down, it's down to 2 and a quarter percent now, it will go down to 1 and a quarter percent, in other words it's almost become an insignificant contributor to jobs, wealth, living and everything because agriculture itself needs a major new change to be able to work in the Asia Pacific properly.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay Tony, do you think climate change is actually a factor in making these decisions or should be a factor in deciding whether or not to have a mine? 

TONY WINDSOR:  Oh very much so and the jobs in regional Australia, if Mr Abbott and a few of his friends would see some reality in terms of this, a lot of those jobs are going to be in terms of value adding to renewable energy. I personally invite you to come and have a look at Inverell abattoir, for instance, where the biodigestion process is producing its own energy in a value add to the meat industry. Those are the sorts of things that can occur in Regional Australia. I agree with you in terms of the agriculture won't, in Australia won't feed the globe, this food bowl issue that we keep talking about, but parts of it can make a significant contribution. One of those parts is the Liverpool Plains.  Phil's big mistake is he's grouping all of the mining areas as one, they're not. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Andrew, you're a farmer in the area where the Shenhua mine is proposed in New South Wales. How are you feeling about the mine going ahead? 

ANDREW PURSEHOUSE:  Look, I think the farmers on the Liverpool Plains aren't against mining, but they're against mining in an area like the Liverpool Plains.  There's plenty of Australia where there's resources that can be mined, why go to somewhere that has such potential, apart from the soils we have a magic climate, we have youth, they want to get into agriculture, we have high tech agriculture.  We have the soils, we had the depth of soils, three metres of black soil, we have a huge irrigation industry that draws from aquifers that are in layers.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you're worried about the water? 

ANDREW PURSEHOUSE: Yeah, well the expert scientific panel advised Mr Hunt that it's unlikely to affect. That doesn't give me a lot of confidence about the future.  What does unlikely mean in terms of percentages? Is it 5 percent or 30 percent? Is it very unlikely? Is it not likely?

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anne, you had your hand up, you're a vet in nearby Gunnedah, you're also president of the local chamber of commerce. Response? 

ANNE LUKE:  Well one of the things that worries me with all of this picture is we have to have a process whereby we can have reliance on this, at this stage now with the Shenhua mine it has actually sort of gone through so much rigor, process after process going back to government time and time again, how much more does this mine have to do when they have actually all the expertise that's there, all the government processes that are there, if that actually says that mine that can be approved, well then it should be approved.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why are you so supportive of the mine? 

TONY WINDSOR: She's emotionally involved. 

ANNE LUKE:  Yeah, I am emotionally involved. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well you're all emotionally involved. 

ANNE LUKE:    I see it as a boost to the economic and to maintain the services that we actually sort of have in this town.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Tony, what did you want to say? 

TONY WINDSOR:  Well, the processes, the scientific processes that Anne spoke about, I had a little bit to do with that in the last Parliament. Since that last Parliament there was a fully funded bioregional assessment of the catchment, the water in the Liverpool Plains and other parts of the Namoi catchment. Greg Hunt has removed that. So I'm all for scientific processes but these processes are being circumvented by the current arrangements. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, yes?

ANDREW PURSEHOUSE: The whole Liverpool Plains extent, all the towns and villages rely on that same underground water - it's pristine water, we fill our water bottles up out of that water in the summer, you don't worry about going to a rainwater tank. We're playing Russian Roulette with this water in this case, in the Liverpool Plains.

ANNE LUKE:  Farming is having an effect on that water as well too, the level of the water is decreasing further and further? 

ANDREW PURSEHOUSE: No, no, no. You don't know the facts. The New South Wales government brought in a water sharing plan and the farmers and the community have been taking reductions in water up to, in our area around Breeza, 68 percent reduction in water allocations over the last twenty years.  So that's nonsense, Anne, get your facts because we are now down to a perceived sustainable level across the whole of the Liverpool Plains and there's been a lot of pain taken to get there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, we do have to wrap, I just want to ask, go back to the community around the Acland area. What is the state of the community now? Yes, Matt? 

MATTHEW TONSCHECK:  I've been there all my life apart from two and a half years when I couldn't be in the area and it's the best I've ever seen it. This mine has given the opportunity for young farmers to come back into the area, whereas before there was, there was none. There was no way in the world that I would not, that I would be able to come back into the area without the mine and I speak on behalf of many. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Shane? I can get a comment from you? 

SHANE CHARLES: Yeah, absolutely. We're committed and working really strongly with farms in the region to get away from this bulk commodity mindset that we see to have in this country to a value added retail type perspective.  We won't be the food bowl of Asia, we'll be the delicatessen of Asia.  You know, we've got huge opportunities for beef. Dairy, I'm so pleased these guys are spending big coin because I think that's a big opportunity as well. There's a sense of optimism out there that as I say, it's exciting. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you think the community's in good shape. Tanya, what do you think? 

TANYA PLANT:  I guess some of these comments are relating to the broader community and I was thinking even on the way down here, you know, how sort of sad it is here that we've now got this division in our community.  Like you know, Matt behind me was a year below me at school and here we are now national TV, you know, having to argue this position where he wants to keep his job at the mine and I'm obviously hurt that the effect of him keeping the job at the mine is that it, you know, destroys my livelihood and the impacts of…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Has it affected relationships between people? 

TANYA PLANT:  Of course it has.  Like you try not to you but even when you're on a committee and you try not to mention the mine it is the elephant in the room. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Shane, when do you expect the extension of the mine to be up and running? 

SHANE STEPHAN:  We, up and running, we need it up and running for 2017, '18 and that's why we need the mining lease granted for mid 2016 to guarantee continuity of employment for those people. 435 jobs, that's a lot of families, there's no fly in fly out, people live in the district. They contribute to the district, their children go to the schools, in and around the district. To take that away from the district would savage the economic prosperity of that district and its the future. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   We have to wrap up and I know everybody wants to keep going and everyone wants to have the last word but we do have to wrap up.   That is all we have time for here but let's keep talking about this on Twitter and on Facebook.