• The controversial NSW coalmine project has been scrapped. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The company will be paid out in return for the controversial mining licence, while Gomeroi leaders call for the land to be returned to Traditional Owners.
Karen Michelmore

21 Apr 2021 - 2:39 PM  UPDATED 21 Apr 2021 - 9:38 PM

Traditional Owners in northern NSW have cautiously welcomed a landmark $100 million deal which halts the controversial Shenhua Watermark Coal project on the Liverpool Plains.

But Gomeroi Traditional Owner Steve Talbot said the parcel of 6000 hectares of high-biodiversity land should be handed back to the local Aboriginal community.

“I’m glad that Shenhua got packing and sent back to China,” Mr Talbot told NITV.

“I’m happy for the farmers. I’m glad that the mine is not going to go ahead, but it still doesn’t protect sites that are still out there from any future mining that might happen down the track.”

The Gomeroi people have been fighting the thermal coal mine near Gunnedah for years, alongside farmers, because of the impact it would have had on cultural heritage and local water resources.

The NSW Government announced today the government will pay the Chinese-owned company $100 million in exchange for it withdrawing its mining lease application and surrendering its development consent.

The decision, following six months of negotiations, means no open cut coal mining can occur in the area.

“As of 430 yesterday the Shenhua company did sign with the NSW government where we will now extinguish the mining licence forever and a day,” Deputy Premier John Barilaro told reporters in Breeza.

“It means there’s no mining here on the Liverpool Plains. It’s the end of this saga. Full stop. Full stop,” he said to spontaneous applause from local community members.

 Under the deal, more than 6,000 hectares of high biodiversity land would be managed by Local Land Services including the protection of habitat for koalas and other endangered species.

Significant Indigenous cultural sites and artefacts would also be protected, he said.

But Steve Talbot remains cautious.

Last year the Gomeroi people lost a Federal Court challenge against Environment Minister Sussan Ley for refusing to protect culturally significant sites at the site because of the potential economic and social benefits of the proposed development.

The sites included two rare grinding grooves as well as burial grounds and male ceremonial areas.

Mr Talbot said now the mine had been halted, the minister should revisit her decision.

“They should be protected forever. Once they are gone, they are gone.

“Now the economic values are gone maybe she should revisit it and have permanent protection over those sites out there,” he said.

“While it’s a win for the farmers and a partial win for the Gomeroi people, it still doesn’t protect what we have been fighting for those sites that are out there on Watermark mountain.

“They should be protected forever. Once they are gone, they are gone.

“It’s like a war memorial where Gomeroi people put up resistance to European settlement for about 150 years, and fought resistance.

“These grinding grooves are where they sharpened their axes and their spears… for them ready to go back into battle and fight European settlement.”

He also called on the government to hand the land back to the Gomeroi people, rather than Local Land Services.

“We want it to be handed back to the Gomeroi people as a whole because everybody in Gomeroi nation has a connection to that are,” he said.

Mr Barilaro told reporters a potential hand-back was “something we can work to as we go forward - for now we’ve taken control of that land which is very, very important”.

He also said the government is in active discussions with Santos over its licences for coal seam gas options over the land as well.

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