On 5th March the NSW Government released its Strategic Regional Land Use Plans for the Hunter and New England regions. On the government website explaining these plans we are told that the draft plans and policies "deliver on its (the Government's) Strategic Regional Land Use Policy to protect high-quality agricultural land and its water sources from inappropriate mining and coal seam gas projects".
Included in the package were a Draft Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas (CSG) Exploration and a Draft Aquifer Interference Policy.
While the government probably expected environmentalists to be critical of these documents, it appears to be surprised that farmers were unimpressed. Following the Coalition parties' election promises early last year, the agricultural community expected effective safeguards to protect them from the impacts of CSG exploration and mining.
According to the NSW Farmers Federation some of the failings of these plans are:
· There are no areas off-limits to CSG mining - and thus no protection for prime agricultural land.
· Potentially damaging exploration will continue unaffected.
· There is no firm protection for water resources – one of the major concerns of critics of CSG mining.
The Plans and associated documents are on exhibition until 3rd May on the Strategic Regional Landuse Policy Delivery website
It is likely there will be many submissions critical of the plans. But will this really matter? How much notice will the government actually take of community concern?
To date the O'Farrell Government and the ALP (when it was in government) have paid only lipservice to community worries about this intrusive and damaging form of mining. Governments and the politicians who run them are obsessed by short-term economic gain and ignore the long-term economic costs that result from environmental degradation.
Despite all the community activity, our politicians still do not recognise the major long-term threats posed by this industry to rural and urban communities and the environment in general. They fail to see that to an increasing number of people these threats are unacceptable.
So, while the government is responding inadequately to community fears, the groundswell of opposition to CSG continues to grow.
This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on 12 March 2012