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Australia’s first farmland protection bill goes to parliament

Beef Central, 26/10/2011

Australian-first legislation designed to protect farming land from detrimental mining impacts has been introduced into Queensland parliament.

Queensland farm lobby group AgForce said that after two years of lobbying, it was pleasing to see legislation to protect strategic cropping land finally presented to State Parliament.

The new laws represented a solid start to protecting some of Queensland‘s best food-producing country from open cut coal mining, however the coal seam gas sector remained a concern.

“We congratulate the Queensland government on being the first state to introduce such laws and AgForce will closely monitor their on-ground success as they are rolled out,” AgForce CEO Robert Walker said.

“As welcome as it is however, the strategic cropping legislation will preserve only a small percentage of Queensland’s best farm land where food crops are grown. It won’t protect land used to graze sheep and cattle which are also critical industries to feed Queensland and world consumers.”

Mr Walker said the next step in the process was to work on a Strategic Grazing Land criteria and AgForce would continue to highlight the importance of all agriculture for long-term national and international food security.

“Coal mines might produce short-term income for Queensland but they also permanently damage our landscape for food production.  A mine might have a life of 30 or 40 years, scar the land and then it’s gone, while farmers are producing food in perpetuity,” said Mr Walker.

AgForce said it would also maintain pressure on the State government to ensure the activities of Queensland’s other major resource industry, the coal seam gas sector, were tightly regulated.

“We remain very concerned that CSG activities have the strong potential to permanently damage underground water reserves, and urge the government to produce the science that proves it won’t,” Mr Walker said.

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said the state government’s proposed strategic cropping land legislation must reflect “the best available scientific advice”.

QRC Chief Executive Michael Roche said the inclusion of soil criteria in the Bill, rather than in subsequent regulations, meant the spotlight would move to the Parliament’s Environment, Agriculture Resources and Energy Committee, to which the Bill has been referred.

“It is a surprise to discover soil criteria laid out as black letter law in the legislation introduced last night, effectively sidelining the Minister's own committee of four eminent soil scientists appointed to advise on implementation of the legislation,” Mr Roche said.

“This legislation needs to be underpinned by the best available science and while the jury is still out on some of the proposed soil criteria used to identify the best cropping land in Queensland, no-one can come away from this process completely satisfied.

“The last thing anyone wants to see is a lawyer’s picnic created around soil criteria open to challenge through the courts.”

Mr Roche said there was little question that the introduction of yet another exclusion zone for resource sector operations would mean that a number of resource projects would be blocked with negative economic consequences for Queensland.

“However, we do acknowledge that the government has recognised the prior investment of tens of millions of dollars in advanced projects and is also providing avenues for these projects to work within the legislative framework.”

Mr Roche said that the four percent of Queensland proposed to be covered by strategic cropping land ‘trigger maps’ compared favourably with the 0.09 percent of the state’s land physically disturbed by resource sector operations.

“Queensland deserves strong resources and agriculture sectors, and there is room for both.”
 

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