Farmers ‘bitterly disappointed’ by NSW land protection plan

Beef Central, 12/09/2012

NSW Farmers have expressed bitter disappointment at the O'Farrell Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, released yesterday after 16 months of consultation and development.

The NSW Government says the policy strikes the right balance between protecting prime agricultural land and water resources and providing greater certainty for both landholders and miners.
However the State’s peak farming group has accused the Government of caving into the powerful mining and energy lobby and stopping short of providing meaningful protections to food producing land and water.

The policy released follows 16 months of community and stakeholder engagement and contains 27 measures which the Government says strike the right balance between mining development and farmland protection. Some of the measures include:

  • The identification of Strategic Agricultural Land  so that proposed projects must go through the  new Gateway process – an  independent, scientific and upfront  assessment of the  impacts  of mining and CSG production proposals;
  • The appointment of a new Land and Water Commissioner to restore  community confidence in the processes governing exploration activities in NSW and to oversee land access agreements between landholders and miners;
  • An Aquifer Interference Policy that uses science to assess and protect water resources across the entire State, not only Strategic Agricultural Land;
  • The requirement for an Agricultural Impact Statement as part of the assessment of exploration proposals;
  • New Codes of Practice for the coal seam gas (CSG) industry, covering well drilling standards and hydraulic fracturing;
  • Standard land access agreements to ensure fair outcomes for landowners;
  • Additional compliance resources (40 positions) to ensure the tough new standards are met; 
  • CSG producers to invest in local communities through Regional Community Funds.
  • The scrapping of an exceptional circumstances provision that would have allowed certain mining or CSG projects to bypass the Gateway; and
  • A 670,000 hectare increase in the area of Strategic Agricultural Land marked for protection in the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions to 2 million hectares.

The NSW Farmers association expressed anger at the O'Farrell Government yesterday, saying the plan falls well short of providing adequate protections to the State’s land and water assets.

“What did we get? We got an incomplete package with watered down water protections and a virtual green light for exploration and mining right across most of the state,” president Fiona Simson said yesterday.

She said the policy not only broke an election promise but ignored 1500 submissions asking for greater protections and ignored the wishes of thousands of city and country people who marched to Parliament House on May1 .

Ms Simson said that after decades of lack of strategic planning in exploration and mining licences, the Coalition Government had made some important steps forward.

“But unfortunately, like many other governments, it has caved into the mining and energy lobby at the expense of our state’s natural resources,” she said.

“This issue is not just something that affects farmers. It has the potential to affect everyone in our communities.  That’s why we’ll be continuing to fight hard for stronger protections for our land and water.

“We will also be seeking a commitment from the government to review these policies within the next two years to see if they are making a positive difference and amend them accordingly. It is the least the people of NSW deserve.”

A total of 87 percent of community members surveyed by Newspoll in June 2012 were in favour of excluding mining and coal seam gas from parts of our agricultural land.

Agriculture contributed more than $14.5 billion or 3.4 percent to the NSW economy in the year ended June 2011. There are more than 43,500 farm businesses in NSW with farming land covering more than 72 percent of the state.



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