PRA: Will farmland safeguards deliver the desired protection?

Beef Central, 20/10/2011

As noble as the concept of protecting Strategic Cropping Land is, it requires a lot more scrutiny and comment on the fine detail before it becomes law, Property Rights Australia chair Joanne Rea argues…

Property Rights Australia is not and has never been opposed to the protection of strategic cropping land against the excesses of mining and coal seam gas.

However the recently released SCL SPP does not relate to mining or coal seam gas. It is specifically aimed at agriculture and local government under the Sustainable Planning Act.

Specifically excluded from the discussion paper were the impacts of resources exploration and resources development activities including mining, gas and petroleum developments on SCL.

The policy draft discussion paper goes on to say:

“These activities are regulated under the Mineral Resources Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009,Geothermal Exploration Act 2004,Geothermal Energy Act 2010 State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 and Environmental Planning Act 1994. These acts are collectively referred to as ‘resources legislation’.”

There is a promise that these entities covered by the ‘resources legislation’ will be covered in the SCL legislation but this
discussion paper in no way referred to any curbs on these entities.

What is available to view are the very generous transitional arrangements offered to mining and coal seam gas companies so
that if the appropriate paperwork had been submitted by 31/5/11 they would not be subject to SCL legislation.

No doubt, many or all of the large companies will have enough done to ensure that they have years work ahead of them before they are subject to SCL.

Farming and local government have no such transitional arrangements and will be subject to the Act on commencement. 

In the absence of any draft legislation to peruse so that it may be judged alongside the effects on agriculture and local government Property Rights Australia submitted that the legislation should be put aside until we have adequate time to peruse how it actually will impact on mining and CSG instead of relying on promises by the government that it is going to do something in the future.

Otherwise we have committed farming once again to more regulation which may not deliver the desired protection that farmers have been asking for.

DERM have recently released another paper called Strategic Cropping Land-Mitigation Arrangements

“The objective of mitigation arrangements is to address the loss of agricultural productive value that occurs where a development results in the permanent alienation of strategic cropping land (SCL).”

Approval of Mitigation Measures

Principle 2 states that mitigation should provide a public rather than a private benefit.

For this purpose a Mitigation Fund will be developed and the company causing the permanent alienation can pay into the fund or a community development which “benefit the largest possible number of cropping agribusinesses". 

Where the permanent alienation occurs on private land other than that owned by the developer, Property Rights Australia believes the mitigation measures should be paid to the owner or lessor of that land.

To pay mitigation to the public or community purse when a private individual or company has been affected quite possibly to the point of unviability is unacceptable.

The Queensland Resources Council predictably disagrees and in their submission and they state:

“Principle 2 states that the mitigation must provide a public, rather than a private, benefit, however Principle 7 is geared towards subsidising the agriculture industry, which constitutes a private benefit at the cost of another private benefit. While QRC is supportive of evaluating the private benefit against the return for the greater public benefit, QRC is not supportive of mitigation funds being used to subsidise another wealthiest industry. (my emphasis)

Payments for the permanent alienation of cropping land are not subsidies. They are payments for the destruction of the irreplaceable resource on which agriculture relies.

The Queensland Resources Council is also objecting to mitigation values with the DERM discussion definition of value closer to a retail valuation and QRC aiming for an unimproved capital value. 3

It is ironic that QRC is supporting the socialisation of mitigation for private damage. I wonder if they would not be asking for compensation for shareholders (themselves) if the boot were on the other foot.

“Furthermore, the QRC notes that since the underlying intent of the SCL Draft SPP is to protect a finite State resource and its ability to ensure long-term food production and regional growth, then the benefit of a project should be considered in light of the gain for the State as a whole, and not only the specific community affected by the development.”

Mitigation measures have more usually been paid for damage to the environment or cultural heritage values which one could perhaps argue are “owned” by the state.

In this case there will more likely be a private property which suffers the permanent alienation of the cropping land and Property Rights Australia is opposed to the socialisation of the entire fund of mitigation measures.

The concept of Strategic Cropping Land requires a lot more scrutiny and comment on the fine detail before it becomes law.


RELATED ARTICLE: Major test for farmland protection commitment looms




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