FARMERS who marched on state parliament to protest against miners encroaching on their land were given an immediate reward for their efforts – a frank admission from the state government that it could do better.
Almost drowned out by the boos of 4000 protesters, Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner yesterday admitted the government’s draft policy on coal seam gas mining could be “improved”.
It was enough to give the farmers some hope in their bitter fight with a mining industry that currently has near-unfettered access to their agricultural land, if they hold an exploration permit.
While his delivery left some protesters bewildered, Mr Stoner told the farmers the government was listening and would protect agricultural land from mining, despite telling one farmer to shut up.
“It’s a draft policy we know can be improved, it will be – if you’ll just shut your mouth for a minute, mate – it will be,” Mr Stoner said.
Under the draft policy, an independent panel would decide if it is safe for a company to mine on, or within 2km of, prime agricultural land.
But if the government decides a project is of “exceptional value to the state”, they can approve it without it going through the review process.A potential change of heart was also aired by Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, who said such a clause could be changed if people didn’t have faith in governments to make the right decision.
“My inclination is that if people don’t have faith in government … well perhaps it’s not worth the agony,” Mr Hazzard said.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary report into coal seam gas, ordered by the upper house, also gave farmers cause for celebration yesterday.
As revealed in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, the report called for a ban on the controversial CSG mining method known as fracking and a freeze on new production licences until governments had regulatory measures in place.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said if the recommendations were acted upon, it would ruin the industry and be a huge expense to the community.