NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and radio host Alan Jones go head to head on the Shenhua mine

THERE is no doubt about it. Former NSW Labor Resources Minister Ian Macdonald had a busy few months at the end of 2008 that this state is still trying to get over.

The Doyles Creek licence outside Jerrys Plains that Macdonald granted to a mate, which was announced on Christmas Eve, 2008, landed the former minister in jail for 10 years along with the mate, after years of fighting to stop it by Hunter farmers in the affected area.

Macdonald is back in court later this year on charges linked to a second Hunter mine licence, also signed off by the resources minister in 2008.

And then there was the Watermark mining licence on the fertile Liverpool plains about 35 kilometres from Gunnedah, which was announced in a few paragraphs in August, 2008 with a single sentence from the minister about the “strict conditions” that would apply during the exploration phase.

Shenhua Energy of China would pay $300 million up-front for the coal exploration licence, Macdonald said in a media statement at the time. It would pay $175 million for transport infrastructure and another $200 million if the mining lease was granted, he said.

It was granted, despite sustained protests from an unlikely coming together of environmental groups, farmers, service clubs, Nationals politicians and prominent media commentators like Alan Jones.

Jones was back at it again on Thursday after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the NSW Government would spend $260 million buying back about 51 per cent of the Shenhua licence. The majority portion is said to cover the prime agricultural land, leaving only adjacent ridges remaining.

It would be fair to say the encounter between Berejiklian and Jones was torrid. The Premier said the Government had no option but to pay out the multi-millions after a process where the Chinese company was blocked from developing the mine. Jones rubbished the idea.

He berated the Premier after she criticised the “previous Labor Government (that) got us into this mess”, countering that it was the Coalition Government that extended the exploration lease.

Somewhere in a NSW jail cell, Ian Macdonald was possibly listening. The openly bitter and usually brutal politics of NSW coal continues to grind on without him.

Issue: 38,544.