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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 6802

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (11:46): The coalition supports the expansion of the coal seam gas industry, in harmony with the rights of landholders and the protection of prime agricultural land for food production. Issues related to land use are, of course, primarily a matter for the states. It is important that we take a balanced approach that acknowledges the importance of the mining industry to Australia's economic future while protecting prime agricultural land and respecting the rights of farmers.

The coalition supports the work done by our state colleagues in delivering a more balanced approach than that currently being offered by state Labor governments. The mining industry and the farming community have a long history of working together in Australia, which has allowed both sectors to prosper. There are long-established systems in place that allow miners and farmers to negotiate land access and very few cases end up in court. There are numerous examples of farmers and mining companies who have been working cooperatively and who have negotiated mutually beneficial outcomes.

It is also important to note that the development of the coal seam gas industry in Queensland is subject to more than 1,500 state and federal conditions, making it more regulated than the uranium industry. The coal seam gas companies operating in Queensland, such as the Queensland Gas Co. and Santos, have shown they are willing to carry out the process in good faith. By way of example, all the Queensland Gas Co. work on private properties has been done with the express permission of landholders. The Queensland Gas Co. prefers voluntary agreements and now has more than 800 agreements, following negotiations on land access with about 1,000 landholders.

The coalition believes there are some sections of productive land that are of such significance that they should be given additional safeguards. Under the Constit­ution, it is state governments that are responsible for land use and mining. Therefore, in our view, it is a matter for each state government to determine which areas are considered prime agricultural land and for each state to put in place protective measures where appropriate in consultation with farmers, rural communities and resources companies. We urge those resources companies to deal effectively with the issue of protection of prime agricultural land. That is of course a matter that state governments need to continue to pursue as a matter of priority.

Positive steps have been taken, for example, by the O'Farrell government in New South Wales to balance the needs of mining and agriculture. The O'Farrell government has put in place a moratorium and strategic land use plans which will identify and protect productive farmland, involve communities in local decision making, ensure a sustainable and healthy mining industry and encourage industry best practice. The O'Farrell government is also developing a stringent groundwater regula­tion, reviewing fracking standards and reviewing access arrangements. The Liberal-National Party in Queensland has shown how seriously it takes the issue of safeguarding prime agricultural land with the publication of a discussion paper noting the importance of gas to the Queensland economy and raising a number of issues that have not been addressed by the Bligh Labor government. These include the depletion of underground water, land access, the location of coal seam gas infrastructure close to dwellings and the increased pressure on inadequate existing regional infrastructure.

The Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee, chaired by my colleague Senator Heffernan, is currently inquiring into the management of the Murray-Darling Basin, including the impact of mining coal seam gas, and will report on 30 November 2011. That committee is examining the economic, social and environ­mental impacts of mining coal seam gas on the sustainability of water aquifers and future water licensing arrangements; the property rights and values of landholders; the sustainability of prime agricultural land and Australia's food task; the social and economic benefits or otherwise for regional towns; the effective management of relationships between mining and other interests; and various other matters.

The federal coalition will continue to work with the coalition in New South Wales, with the LNP in Queensland and with other state parties to ensure the rights of farmers are always respected in this context. Mr President, I seek your guidance as to whether I can continue my remarks now or whether I need to seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Time for the debate has expired.