Landholders should have the right to say no to coal seam gas developments on their properties, according to the man likely to become Australia’s next Federal resources minister.
Federal shadow minister for energy and resources Ian Macfarlane made the comments at a 500 strong rally at Cecil Plains on Queensland’s Darling Downs on Saturday.
Mr Macfarlane, a farmer by occupation and former national grains industry leader, has held the seat of Groom on the Darling Downs – which he describes as the ‘epicentre of great farming country in Australia’ – for the past 15 years.
He held ministerial portfolios in the Howard Government including small business, industry, tourism and resources from 2001 to 2007, but told last Saturday’s gathering that farming was where his roots were: “If you’re born a farmer you never stop being a farmer”.
As someone who’s experience straddles high-level involvement in both the agriculture and mining sectors, he said he was often called upon to advise the Federal Coalition on issues relating to co-existence or conflict between the resources industry and the farming industry.
“I’m always happy to do that,” he told the rally. “And, that’s why when Tony Abbot talks about this sort of country, about prime agricultural land, our policy is that you don’t extract coal seam gas and you certainly don’t mine this sort of country unless the farmer says you can, and that’s been the premise, the basic premise to our policy now for over three years.
“We also have a policy that in terms of any extraction of coal seam gas, that it doesn’t have a permanent effect on the water table and that it also doesn’t affect the productivity of the land.”
He said that while the federal opposition would take those policies to the election, in the end the decisions about how CSG will be managed on the Condamine Plains where last Saturday’s rally was held will be made at State Government level.
“In the meantime, and I talk to resources companies regularly as you’d expect, just as I talk to farmers regularly, and I’ve said to them you should not go on to a property where the farmer doesn’t want you there, whether it’s prime agricultural land or not.
“And that’s been the case in recent times, perhaps 2 or 3 years, with the exception of infrastructure which is always going to be contentious, whether it’s a telephone line, a power line, a gas line, an oil line or a road, there are obvious necessities of doing that.
“But in terms of exploring and developing coal seam gas I can assure you that the companies are now fully aware that they need the farmer on side. “
Mr Macfarlane also noted that there were farmers who welcomed coal seam gas operators onto their land, and had worked out co-existence plans and had obviously earned a significant amount of money in return, including Peter Thompson at Roma.
“I’ve known Peter Thompson a long time he’s one of the best farmers in the Roma area and he’s confident that he can do both.
“Where farmers don’t want that, then that’s the farmers decision and that’s what everyone should abide by.”
Mr Macfarlane said he believed better scientific knowledge and understanding about how CSG and mining activities impact upon underground water reserves was needed before country above important freshwater aquifers such as the Condamine Alluvium was touched.
“If it can’t be touched without damaging the aquifers then it shouldn’t be and everyone needs to understand that.”
Basin Sustainability Alliance chairman David Hamilton said it was encouraging to hear Mr Macfarlane advocate a more sustainable approach to CSG development.
Mr Hamilton urged the Queensland Government to revisit the Petroleum and Gas Act and remove the clauses that require landholders to enter into agreement with the CSG companies.