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The junction of the Mann and Clarence rivers: Image: Graham Mackie/Steve Cansdell

Mining for votes

Geoff Helisma |

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, has declared that a proposed copper mine at Cangai “must be stopped”, due to the “serious risk” it would pose “to the health of the Mann and Clarence rivers”.

With the NSW election due on March 23, Mr Cansdell challenged sitting Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis and Country Labor’s candidate, Trent Gilbert, “to take a firm stand on also opposing this ecological disaster in the making”.

“There is no hiding on this issue; there is no sitting on the fence,” he said in a media release.

“The proposed Cangai mine is … at the top of a hill, with steep runoff into two tributaries to the Mann River, which in turn runs into the Clarence River.

“It’s an environmental disaster just waiting to happen.

“This mine poses a major threat to our multi-million-dollar fishing industry, not to mention farming and rural drinking water.

“The upper Clarence and The Gorge are national treasures and must be protected.

“We’re not against mining but this poses too many risks to our community and we need all candidates to fight side by side on this issue.”

The Independent passed Mr Cansdell’s challenge on to Mr Gulaptis and Mr Gilbert.

Mr Gulaptis said Mr Cansdell’s claims were “ill-informed and opportunistic”.

“The NSW Resources Regulator has already suspended all operations by Castillo Copper near Grafton due to a number of serious compliance issues being identified at a recent inspection,” he said in a written statement.

“It was the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government that established the Resources Regulator in 2016 to undertake compliance and enforcement over the resources sector and this shows we take any non-compliance very seriously.”

Mr Gulaptis aimed more criticism at Mr Cansdell, the former Nationals MP for Clarence who resigned from the NSW Parliament in 2011.

“When he was last in office he was a leading mouthpiece for local coal seam gas company, Metgasco,” Mr Gulaptis said, quoting Mr Cansdell’s statement to the Northern Star, in May 2011, about Metgasco’s then plan to build a gas-fired power plant at Casino.

“One thing Mr Cansdell is being truthful about is that he is not against mining.”

At the time, Mr Cansdell was reported to have said: “Metgasco will be a great contributor to lower carbon emissions and to moving an area of low economic growth forward” and that harsh penalties contained in the Coalition’s coal-seam gas policy for miners who break laws aimed at protecting aquifers were adequate.

Now, Mr Gulaptis said: “It was the Nationals that stood up [and cancelled CSG licences in 2014] to protect our farmland and environment and we will do it again if we need to.”

Labor candidate Trent Gilbert also vowed to protect “the mighty Clarence River”.

“Whatever happens to the proposal to reopen the Cangai mine – closed since 1917 – the integrity of the catchment of the Mann and then Clarence Rivers must remain,” he said in a written statement.

“Copper mining has a long history of environmental disasters around the world.

“Recognising that there should have to be an intensive environmental impact study, even at proposal stage, it is hard to imagine how such a project could guarantee to prevent any run off of pollutants into the Clarence.

“This area has episodes of extremely high rainfall, very rough terrain, and multiple permanent and intermittent streams.”

Nevertheless, despite their statements, neither Mr Gulaptis nor Mr Gilbert declared their opposition to the mine.