What do the following men share in common:
Gerry Harvey (retail mogul)
Bob Hawke (former Prime Minister)
Michael Jeffery (former governor-general)
Alan Jones (shock jock)
John Messara (thoroughbred breeder) and
John Singleton (advertising mogul)?
For starters, they've all got the hots for fast horses. And, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, they all helped to drive "one of Australia's most extraordinary environmental campaigns" - resulting in what is believed to be "the first time the NSW Government has rejected a mining lease after granting an exploration licence". (This means the shelving of the proposed $3.6 billion Bickham coal mine, which would have threatened the water supply of dozens of horse studs and vineyards).
The Upper House Greens' MP Lee Rhiannon says that this decision by the NSW government will "have wider significance if it is the start of a genuine shift by the Government to sustainable clean energy ... The Greens do hope that it signals a new direction ... that the Government is finally considering impacts on local communities, the natural environment and climate change implications."
The environment might well cheer the government's decision (if only it could!), but the reality is that the environment just got lucky on this occasion, because, for once, its needs happened to coincide with the desires of one of the most elite boys' clubs in Australia.
Was the government thinking about the environment while weighing up the pros and cons of this coal mine? Are you kidding? As Major Michael Jeffery pointed out in his speech at the Melbourne Cup* in 2005: "throughout Australia, racing's annual contribution to the national economy is almost $4 billion."
[* for any non-Australians who might be reading this, the Melbourne Cup is an Australian horse race known as "the race that stops a nation"].
Hmmm ... which to protect? A $3.6 billion coal mine ... or the $4 billion-a-year racing industry (which has Alan "The Parrot" Jones squawking on its behalf)? It's no surprise that the government decided to kiss the collective arse of the racing industry. Let's not pretend they've done something benevolent for the environment.
Incidentally, I'm sure it's no coincidence that the government chose to announce its decision on Scone Cup Day (which just happens to be "the richest country racing day on the national calendar").
How long will the Hunter region stay safe from open-cut coal mines? My guess is: for as long as the punters keep forking out billions of dollars every year in betting on the ponies. The horse racing industry doesn't produce anything of intrinsic value (certainly not to the tune of $4 billion per year in Australia): it is an industry built on gambling.
Oh, and while I'm on the subject of the horse racing industry: spare a thought for the 70% of all thoroughbred foals born in Australia who never make it to the racetrack, and usually end their relatively short lives by being turned into dog food. (A 2008 report by the RSPCA found that 80% of the horses sent to slaughter showed signs of neglect).
Spare a thought, too, for the problem gamblers who can't truly afford the financial support they give to the horse racing industry.
When the world economy tanks, thereby forcing ordinary gamblers to stop forking out money at the betting shop, the coal industry will get whatever land it wants - because very few people in NSW are showing any signs of giving up coal-fired electricity.
We are, collectively, well on the way to getting the environment we deserve.