This article is from a special feature on the SRLUP.
FARMERS say the NSW Government's much-anticipated strategic regional land use policy (SRLUP) falls short of pre-election promises to unequivocally protect agricultural land and water resources from mining and coal seam gas (CSG).
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said the final product of 18 months' intense negotiations offered "watered down protections" that provided a virtual green light for exploration and mining across most of the State.
She said more than 1500 submissions seeking protection of land and water had been ignored as the government caved in to powerful miners.
"After years of hard work by NSW Farmers, we are bitterly disappointed the O'Farrell Government has not lived up to its election promises on this issue," Ms Simson said in a missive to members.
But wins included the creation of a land and water commissioner, increased levels of assessment for exploration activities, the introduction of a water management regulation for mining and CSG operations that remove three megalitres of water or more, maps of 'strategic' agricultural land and critical industry clusters for two regions; removing the CSG royalty holiday; introducing three codes of practice for hydraulic fracturing, well integrity and exploration phase; and creation of 40 new compliance positions," she said.
"Despite not achieving everything we sought, we will continue to work hard on this issue," Ms Simson said.
Nationals leader and deputy premier Andrew Stoner is standing solidly behind the policies despite an avalanche of criticism.
He said since the draft policy was released in May, there had been significant concessions to NSW Farmers including removal of the "state significant" project exemption from the gateway process and extension of the aquifer interference policy Statewide.
"What we have put together is the strongest and most comprehensive package for mining and gas production in the nation, if not the world, and that is why miners and gas producers are not happy with the package," Mr Stoner told The Land on Wednesday.
"It means any proposal to mine or extract gas, if it damages land, soil or water, it will not get through the gateway and will not get to relevant approval authorities.
"If it is going to wreck our farming future it is not going ahead.
"No other State or nation has those guarantees in place, and this will be enforced through additional compliance staff, a land and water commissioner, and documents being made public to hold the government to account."
The land and water commissioner would be appointed by the end of the year.
"We are in the process of creating a job description and selection criteria with a view to commencing head hunting and we hope the commissioner will be in place, on the ground, by the end of the year," he said.
The NSW National Party's Central Council Natural Resource and Energy Policy Committee made a 134-page submission against the SRLUP in its earlier form, saying it did not meet expectations in many respects.
Asked if the policy released this week was as strong as the Nationals' sought, Mr Stoner said: "the submission that came from the nationals membership was addressed and I spoke personally to the policy committee and the Nationals membership was pleased the government had listened".
"All the concessions made were in the direction of landowners and farmers, we have shifted a long way and that is due to the efforts of members of the National party, NSW Farmers and irrigators," he said.
"There weren't any concessions made in the direction of miners and gas producers."
Metgasco, given its first petroleum production lease for a power station near Casino on Tuesday, was among CSG companies hailing the government's policy, with chief executive Peter Henderson saying the government "had thoroughly assessed the industry and given CSG the green light".
But the mining and CSG industry warned the imposition of an extra layer of bureaucracy would create development delays and deter investment in NSW.
Mr Henderson confidently predicted that when reviewed in three years' time, the policies would prove to be unnecessary.
The government has tripled the area of farmland classed as "strategic agricultural land" in the State's North West and Upper Hunter - the first areas to be mapped - to more than two million hectares.
The chief protection for land classed as strategic agricultural land will be that any proposed mining projects will go through a new "gateway process", where they will be subject to an upfront assessment of their impacts on strategic farmland and water resources by an independent panel of experts before being able to lodge a development application.