NSW farmer groups have reacted angrily to the stridently pro-coal seam gas (CSG) position pronounced by incoming Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane - particularly after a video of Mr Macfarlane voicing serious "misgivings" on CSG was posted by the Lock the Gate Alliance.
Farming lobbies have questioned the Minister's knowledge of concerns in the bush and caution against a “headlong dash” to development.
Mr Macfarlane has dismissed the concerns of anti-CSG activists, saying: "I'm not interested in noisy protesters, minority groups, with no interest in the development of regional Australia and the economic progress of agriculture and mining together".
“They simply want to politicise this issue and tell lies."
However, Mr Macfarlane appeared to be singing from a different song sheet at an anti-CSG rally on the fertile Darling Downs in Queensland this April.
This clip posted by the Lock the Gate Alliance provides extracts from Mr Macfarlane's speech at the Darling Downs anti-CSG rally on April 27, 2013.
Mr Macfarlane said at the event more scientific understanding of CSG was needed and said if landholders needed "a voice on a federal level then I am always there".
“I was the one who drove the [policy] where resources companies were told they couldn’t go within two kilometres of houses.
“I do these things not because they are popular but because they are the right thing to do.
“I have misgivings - and I want to see a better understanding particularly of the Condamine alluvium and the Walloons.
“We need to understand whether or not this country can be touched at all - and if it can't be touched without damaging the aquifers, then it shouldn't be.”
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson was concerned Mr Macfarlane was already dismissing opposition to the CSG industry in NSW, given he had not yet spoken to all relevant stakeholders on the CSG issue.
“Farmers and communities in NSW have deep and genuine concerns about the effect this industry is already," she said.
"We do not think it is fair for those concerns to be labelled politically nor emotionally driven.
“The NSW legislative framework in relation to CSG is severely lacking – this is something we have been saying for years,” she said.
NSW Irrigators Council (NIC) chief executive Andrew Gregson said NIC have been at the forefront of investigating ways to sustainably coexist with coal seam gas.
"We're doing our very best to ensure that the short-term benefit of gas operations can be achieved for regional NSW without significant or possibly irreparable damage to long-term sustainable irrigation farming."
Ms Simson and Mr Gregson said they are encouraged by the Coalition’s resources and energy policy, which supports a landholder’s right to deny access to resources companies.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr Macfarlane said it was inconceivable that in his native Queensland, some 4000 farmers had individual agreements with gas companies in which they benefited from having CSG wells on their land but there were next to none in NSW.
Ms Simson said NSW Farmers favours “co-existence” with CSG, but questioned where the priorities lay between agriculture and gas extraction.
“The geography of Queensland is different and what works there will not necessarily work here.
"I can assure him (Mr Macfarlane) that not everyone over the border is ecstatic about how the CSG industry has developed there.
“We are not against the industry but we are seeking balanced outcomes. Why should CSG extraction take precedence over protection of land and water and basic needs like food and fibre?”
Mr Gregson also favoured co-operation, with the caveat that in regional NSW there is not “significant or possibly irreparable damage to long-term sustainable irrigation farming".
"A headlong dash toward gas development without careful forethought has caused significant damage elsewhere on the planet.
"It is vital that NSW not follow that path - and we'll make no apology for urging caution."
A spokesman for Mr Macfarlane said the Coalition government supports landholders' right to 'lock the gate' and pointed to Queensland as an example of successful coexistence between CSG and agriculture.
"As the Queensland example has shown, the farming and coal seam gas industries can work together to the benefit of both industries," the spokesman said.
"The best outcomes will occur when both farmers and mining companies take part in open and honest discussions free from agendas or point-scoring from vested interests."
The Coalition supports "responsible development" of CSG, under three conditions:
- access to prime agricultural land should only be allowed with the farmer’s agreement
- there is no long term damage to the underground water supply
- agricultural production is not permanently impaired.