A scientific expert committee will be established to research the impacts of mining and coal seam gas extraction on agricultural and environmental resources.
In a deal announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and independent Federal Member for New England Tony Windsor today, $150 million will be provided to establish a new independent committee to advise Commonwealth and state governments about CSG and large coal mining approvals.
The independent MP negotiated the deal that will apply a science-based framework around future mining and CSG project approvals, in exchange for his support on the mining tax.
"Bio-regional assessments will now take place in priority areas and will be funded by the Commonwealth with oversight by an Independent Expert Scientific Committee,” Mr Windsor told ABC Radio today.
States will also be provided with $50m worth of incentives to take the findings of the expert committee into account when developing their own regulation around mining industries.
The Government will also establish a high level working group to look at the broader impacts on soil, food production and food security.
NFF President Jock Laurie described the announcement as a positive move for farmers and rural communities worried about the impact that mining and coal seam gas exploration and development could have on water and other valuable farm input resources.
“The establishment of a scientific expert committee to look at the impacts of these developments is a very welcome move and something communities across affected areas have long called for,” Mr Laurie said.
“Such a body will ensure informed policy decisions are made based on scientific evidence. This is something that has been missing in the development of regulation around these industries, and will give communities confidence that decisions are being made on reliable information.”
It was essential that the full impacts of mining developments on finite resources essential to agriculture were fully understood before projects went ahead.
NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson welcomed the deal as a step toward a more balanced approach to the mining and CSG approval process. It followed a long campaign to ensure science underpins the assessment of all mining and CSG projects, she said.
“We have always said we are not anti mining, and would like to see all planning decisions made on sound scientific evidence and advice,” Mrs Simson said.
“This funding will provide a better, independent understanding of how the expansion of how coal mining and CSG will affect our water resources over the long term.
Ms Simson said the new Federal Committee could play a key role in guiding the NSW Government’s implementation of its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy.
NSW Farmers will be requesting the opportunity to have input into how the Committee is established, as well as its role at the State level.
“This announcement is a step toward a more balanced approach to the mining and CSG approval process, and we’ll continue to look to both the Federal and NSW Governments to ensure the necessary planning frameworks are implemented,” Fiona Simson concluded.
Australian Greens mining spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said the move was food news for southern States, but it was “a great shame for Queensland” that the science was not done before thousands of CSG wells were sunk across prime agricultural land.
She added that the body will not have the power to ensure that the states are compelled to listen to its advice.
She said that when considering the impacts of major coal seam gas projects on the environment, the Federal Environment minister, was not allowed to consider the impacts on water, something a bill she has recently introduced to parliament seeks to address.