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Food versus fuel -

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Food versus fuel

The World Today - Tuesday, 23 September , 2008 12:46:00

Reporter: Donna Field

ELEANOR HALL: In Queensland, farmers and miners are at odds over the cost of the state's resources
boom.

Farmers on free-hold properties are obliged to give mining companies access to explore for
minerals, but they say the explosion in exploration permits is damaging prime agricultural land.

And the peak rural lobby group Agforce is now calling on the State Government to introduce better
regulation.

In Brisbane, Donna Field reports.

DONNA FIELD: The Smith family property, Mount Panorama, in central Queensland is in demand. Mining
and energy companies want access to explore for resources.

The family's first experience with a mining company was a letter advising that 50 holes would be
drilled in prime agricultural land to explore for coal. Gail Godwin-Smith says they had a matter of
days to respond.

GAIL GODWIN-SMITH: And we were able to, through the mining registrar, get that notice of entry
thrown out on the basis of a number of deficiencies associated with that notice, and that bought us
a little bit of time. So 18 months later they've reissued us with another notice of entry, and it's
a revise to a pattern and we have been able to negotiate that the drilling occur off cultivated
areas for the time being, and drilling should occur in the next two weeks.

DONNA FIELD: The companies have to pay bonds to the Environmental Protection Agency before
exploration work begins, but Gail Godwin-Smith says more protection is needed for farmers.

GAIL GODWIN-SMITH: The bonds that the environmental regulators like the EPA ask of mining companies
is just not enough, there's just too many examples of where exploration activity has gone
pear-shaped, and land holders are left with an absolute mess in their own backyard.

DONNA FIELD: Queensland's economy is underpinned by the resources sector. Coal export royalties
kept the state's books in the black last financial year.

Rural lobby group Agforce says the current exploration system favours mining companies. CEO Brett
de Hayr says government regulation hasn't kept up with the growth in the resources sector and
farmers are suffering.

BRETT DE HAYR: There are very few places in Queensland that aren't subject to exploration permits
now, and that moves from the south-east corner to the tip of Cape York to the far south-west of the
state.

DONNA FIELD: And what are the problems with seeing that level of exploration?

BRETT DE HAYR: Well there are two issues there. One, from a lot of the land holders' perspectives,
the uncertainly that goes with it whether there will actually a coal mine, a gas operation or
another type of mining operation on their property, what their future will then be, and then we
move to the series of problems that are worsening when those exploration problems are activated and
the conflict that we're getting between the mining operation and the farmers that want to be there.

DONNA FIELD: Is there an easy solution to this?

BRETT DE HAYR: It could be easier than it is, I think is our problem.

DONNA FIELD: Agforce is lobbying the Queensland Government to ensure farmers get a better deal. A
series of stakeholder summits will be held next month, bringing together mining companies, farmers
and the Government in the state's mining heartlands.

Mines Minister Geoff Wilson says mining shouldn't come at a cost to rural land holders.

GEOFF WILSON: I stress that whilst we want a strong and growing economy and mining is important to
that, we don't want it at the cost of rural land holders. We want to make sure that the economic
potential that is in the Sarat Basin and Bowen Basin and Mount Isa as well, is unleashed for the
benefit of all Queenslanders, but especially those in those regions.

DONNA FIELD: But with more and more of the state's food bowl under exploration Gail Godwin-Smith
says it's inevitable that farmers will be disadvantaged.

GAIL GODWIN-SMITH: There's a very real possibility that some of those prime agricultural areas will
be mined, they will be feasible to proceed into a full-blown mind and those areas will be lost
permanently, we won't be able to use those in the same way that we have been able to use them,
particularly for our cropping areas and that they won't be lost forever.

DONNA FIELD: A spokeswoman for the Queensland Resources Council says the council and its members
are working with the Government on the issue and are looking forward to the summits to work through
the issues with the land holders.

ELEANOR HALL: Donna Field in Brisbane with that report.