SUPPORT for farmers and prime agricultural land in the path of coal seam gas (CSG) and mining is creating division in the federal coalition, and it’s not a good look.
The suicide of Queensland farmer and anti-gas campaigner George Bender has thrust the issue squarely into the national spotlight – highlighting both the Liberals’ unrelenting economic focus, as well as recognition by a number of the Nationals that greater flexibility is needed in its mining policies.
The Nationals have said better powers for farmers are needed, including the right to block exploration access – although so far it is all just talk.
Liberals Minister for Energy and Resources Josh Frydenburg refused to back his Nationals colleagues and said he wanted a “productive discussion” on the issue, saying farmers should be able to reach an agreement with gas companies before any projects went ahead.
This is just talk for talk’s sake because “productive discussion” is not going to bring change at a state level and the current path to an agreement still favours resources companies.
The discussion at the federal level is posturing from a safe distance, while also highlighting the Nats’ inability to bring about serious change on these divisive issues which are hurting rural communities.
A prominent example is Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce who has publicly opposed the Shenhua Watermark mine but hasn’t effected change.
However, there has been progress in NSW due to grass roots pressure.
One promising development is NSW’s new strategic framework released by NSW Resources Minister Anthony Roberts.
The new requirement for upfront consultation before an exploration licence is granted is an important win for regional communities.
It recognises the existing system was flawed and allowed the horse to bolt before the community knew what was happening.
In theory, this change should allow government to better understand community concerns before exploration companies spend millions upfront.
This exploration spend has previously made it hard for governments to later refuse a development application.
However, while these changes in NSW will be of some benefit, it will still come down to grass roots interests to protect prime ag land, because at the end of the day, government will be watching the votes.