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Mining-Farming Bill Passed in Parliament

Posted on 12 May 2014

Source:  Brisbane Times

It is designed to ensure agriculture and mining can co-exist.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney calls it his "legacy".

The Regional Planning Interests bill was passed into parliament on Thursday night, almost two years after it was first mooted by the government.

The legislation maps out a new system of planning across regional Queensland.  Priority agricultural, priority living, strategic environmental and strategic cropping areas have been identified within the plan - but those classifications will not prevent mining.

Advertisement "In terms of the prime agricultural land, there is no total exclusion areas, but the process will make it impossible for an open-cut coal mine to establish within the priority agricultural area," Mr Seeney said.

Coal seam gas mining is different story.

"CSG will be able to meet the criteria, but open-cut coal mines would never meet the criteria to be established on cultivation land on the Darling Downs."

Mining will also be allowed on parts of Cape York.

Resources companies will now have to apply for what is the equivalent of a development application in urban town planning, - a regional interests development approval. That will be assessed by the government in consultation from the Gasfields Commission. Landowners will have the right to appeal a decision - as will mining companies.

"There is an exemption [to applying for a RIDA], which we believe will apply to most projects and that exemption is where the resource company comes to an agreement with the landholder," Mr Seeney said.

"So, it's a powerful incentive for resource companies, especially coal seam gas companies, to come to an agreement with the landholder.

"Now this is a complete reversal of the situation that has caused so much anger and distress in regional Queensland.

"When the gas companies first started they used to rock up and say 'we've got a right to get the gas on your property.  We can negotiate with you, but if you don't agree within 40 days we'll shoot it off to the Land Court and we'll do it anyway'. And that caused an enormous amount of pushback.  It was, fundamentally, I think the cause of the relationship breakdown - this attitude that the resources industry had, that they had a right to do it."

Not everyone is happy with the legislation.  Katter's MP Ray Hopper attempted to move a bill which would protect prime agricultural land from all mining, including CSG, but did not receive the government's support. 

Environmentalists have also expressed concerns, as no area, other than a small strategic environmental area on Cape York - home to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve - is set aside from mining.

The government announced its new planning tool - the strategic environmental area - as a way to protect the Irwin wildlife reserve late last year.

But as the regional planning interests legislation changed, so too did the definition of a strategic environmental area.

"It's a new construct, it hasn't existed before, so there has been a lot of confusion about just what it is," Mr Seeney said.

"Our view of what it should be has changed during the consultation process.  So on the Cape, there is no question that there will be two types. There will be strategy environmental areas that are protected and there will be strategic environmental areas that are managed.  And that is where mining will be allowed - a whole range of activities will be allowed in a managed [way]. We will manage the environmental areas there."

Mr Seeney said the Gasfields Commission had been given boosted powers under the legislation, with every application the government receives to be reviewed by the commission.

"They will publicly respond and if the minister diverts from their recommendation, then we have to publish a reason why," he said.

Mr Seeney said he believed the plan should have been implemented a decade ago, as he believes it would have saved regional Queenslanders "years of angst and distress", but he now considers it to be his legacy - albeit one he said had come at great political cost "from 2006 onwards".

"Huge political cost, because it was so controversial within our side of politics," Mr Seeney said.

"It was controversial generally, with the rural community.  There was a stage, a very real chance that we would end up where NSW is now, just such concern it gets to a point of hysteria where nothing happens.

"This has been a huge part of my political career.  At the time [2006] the debate was whether or not we could contemplate co-existence at all, or whether we should ... just exclude the resources industry from big areas of Queensland.

"Had we done that, we wouldn't have had the $60 billion worth of investment that is currently happening at Gladstone, at Miles and Roma and Dalby, they'd still be sleepy little dusty towns, rather than the sorts of rural communities they are now."