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Mining watchdog suspends Narrabri Coal's exploration licence

Northern Daily Leader - Jamieson Murphy

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THE state's mining watchdog has suspended the exploration licence of Narrabri Coal, for building unauthorised tracks in the Pilliga Forest.

The long-wall mine, which forms part of Whitehaven Coal's operations, was found to be in breach of its licence following a state-wide compliance blitz in June.

More than a dozen hollow trees, which provide important habitat to native animals, were knocked down. The unauthorised paths also failed to divert around environmentally sensitive areas.

Resources Regulator head honcho Anthony Keon said the mine's actions showed a "comprehensive failure" to follow "fundamental regulatory obligations".

"The construction of the unauthorised tracks resulted in significant environmental harm," Mr Keon said.

"Exploration activities are subject to strict conditions in order to ensure appropriate environmental protections.

Citizen science group, the Leard Forest Node, has been monitoring the mine's "progressive incursion" in to the Pilliga forest for a couple of years, spokeswoman Anna Christie said.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg, the Narrabri Coal mine has been flying under the radar for several years," Ms Christie said.

She was glad to see meaningful action taken against the mine, rather than just "a fine and a tap of the wrist".

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The suspension will remain in place until the mine conducts a full review of its compliance systems and can satisfy the watchdog that appropriate controls have been put in place.

Five other joint-venture partners also had their exploration licence suspended. The licence holders acknowledged the offending behaviour and offered to suspend all drilling and clearing activities.

The mine will be able to continue operating, however the suspension stops it from expanding or investigating new sites.

Whitehaven CEO Paul Flynn accepted that on this occasion the company failed to properly obverse its exploration obligations

"Based on our inquiries to date, the circumstances and communication failures that led to this outcome are unacceptable," Mr Flynn said.

"Whitehaven took immediate corrective action following the Regulator's site inspection, suspending all exploration activity and commissioning an independent audit and investigation to determine necessary corrective actions.

"The company is committed to ensuring all relevant issues are identified and addressed before exploration activities at Narrabri can resume and will continue to cooperate fully with the NSW Resources Regulator to achieve this outcome."

Coal seam gas moratorium bill put forward by NSW MLC Justin Field

Northern Daily Leader - Jamieson Murphy

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AN independent politician has put forward a bill to establish a moratorium on all coal seam gas projects in the state.

The private member's bill, introduced to the NSW upper house by MLC Justin Field, would put a halt to Santos' Narrabri Gas Project, establish no-go zones for CSG including agricultural land and introduce a public interest test for proposed developments.

Mr Field said the bill was modelled off a moratorium put forward by Labor in 2015, and was hopefully it would be widely supported.

"The Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Animal Justice Party and Christian Democratic Party have all previously voted for, or supported, legislation or policies that endorse a moratorium on coal seam gas," Mr Field said.

"With those parties on board we can pass a coal seam gas moratorium bill through the NSW Legislative Council.

"The community have long opposed coal seam gas development in NSW and now it is time for the parliament to act."

Mr Field said the bill would renew the pressure on the government, and in particular the Nationals, who lost the seat of Barwon at the recent election to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, in part to CSG and water-related issues surrounding the Santos project.

"Santos have failed to address genuine concerns by the community and government agencies about their project and have breached the agreement they struck with the government in 2014," Mr Field said.

"There are significant water management and waste salt issues that have not been resolved from the company.

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Andrew McConville, CEO of gas industry body APPEA, said there was no reason NSW couldn't have a safe and sustainable CSG industry, like Queensland has had for more than 20 years.

"Repeated independent inquiries, including by NSW Chief Scientist, have found there are no risks associated with onshore gas development that can't be managed, mitigated or eliminated by an appropriate regulatory framework - which NSW has in place," he said.

"The answer to addressing NSW's gas needs is developing new supply - not further regulation or imposing bans on onshore gas development."

GOVERNMENT VOTES AGAINST PROVIDING REAL DROUGHT SUPPORT

Press Release - Roy Butler

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The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party put on the table in Parliament a drought package that would provide real support to farmers and farming communities, disappointingly the Government voted against supporting them.

The SFF drought package includes immediate cash grants, to allow creditors to be paid, cash rebates for local government rates, transitioning legacy loans to zero or low interest loans, the establishment of a re-sowing and re-stocking grant and providing financial support for employers to retain employees on farm and in local businesses.

Clayton Barr visits Moree to grasp water situation as he takes on new role as shadow minister for water

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Cessnock MP and shadow minister for water Clayton Barr was in Moree last week as part of a trip across the region to gain a better understanding of the water situation.

Starting at Dubbo, then moving on to Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Moree on Friday and then Narrabri, Mr Barr wanted to get on the ground and talk to affected people and groups.

"I've only been the shadow minister for water for about six weeks now and I've been trying to read through a whole bunch of reports but for me, the best way to learn was to come and talk to people and see things and be shown how it's working and how it's failing and things like that," Mr Barr said.

He met with the Gwydir Valley Irrigators on Friday as well as local farmer and irrigator to hear their experiences with the low water.

"It's part drought, it's part water sharing, and it's a significant part around priorities of what's most important and what needs to come first, second and third and getting that balance right," he said.

Mr Barr said the reports he has read are mostly facts and figures but they don't detail the social impact on communities, with people being forced to leave town because of the lack of water and therefore lack of work.

"For example, at Walgett they were concerned about losing all of their tradesmen....because the rest of the community didn't have much work so there wasn't much money around," he said.

"So people weren't spending money or doing renovations or building new buildings and improvements, so the tradies didn't have any work but they needed to feed their families.

"They've had to move, and often it's younger families, which then drags kids out of schools so then your school numbers drop.

"That's something that hasn't been captured in any of the reports about water but it's a really important social consequence of the absence of water.

"Hearing stories like that has been fantastic in framing my understanding of how the absence of water has impacted the communities."

While Mr Barr has visited Moree and other towns across the region, it's his first visit in his new role as shadow minister for water, and he said it has been a fantastic experience.

He wants to make it clear that he nor anyone in parliament is anti-irrigation, but it's about coming up with a good strategy in regards to the distribution of water.

"While we can't do anything about rain falling out of the sky and drought conditions we can do something about the rules about what happens to the water once it lands," Mr Barr said.

"I think that's where the really important focus needs to be right now because we don't know when it's going to rain but when it does rain we have to make sure the water goes where it needs to go."

He said most of the reports he's read heavily criticise the government while also making recommendations from scientists, commissioners and experts in the area about what the government should do.

He is yet to see anything that proves those recommendations aren't the right way to go.

"They will cause a bit of pain and grief for some people in terms of their business model and farming models but the benefits to society, environments and in other ways will be significant," Mr Barr said.

"But I would hate to make judgmen

The Boat from Wee Waa - Commercial fisherman Ross Miller, 90, still building prawn trawlers, despite concerns about industry's future

ABC News

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The trawler started its life well away from the waters of the Pacific.

When Mr Miller first learnt about the boat, it was virtually a skeleton under construction in the cotton fields of Wee Waa in western NSW, where water is better known for irrigating cotton fields.

"I brought it in from Wee Waa and have been working on it ever since for the past 14 months. Nothing has been really changed in specifications," he said.

With the commercial fisher no longer on the tools, getting hold of others to carry out the physical side of the work does present problems.

"It is very, very hard indeed. There are a few people around [but] despite [their] experience with larger ships, they have not had the experience of working on a smaller vessel like this," Mr Miller said.

That experience, or lack of, has him working with 75-year-old John Wait, who has been a commercial fisher and these days also helps train potential fishers on behalf of the NSW Fishing Industry Training Council.

"I told Ross that he was crazy to do this. And I was silly enough to be with him and help him," Mr Wait said.

"I love building boats. It is one of those things that gets into your blood and you can't get rid of it. As Toad from Wind in the Willows said, there is nothing like mucking around with boats."

It is not surprising from Mr Wait's view that a person his age is providing the labour.

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