Farmers call on Premier to fix ‘mess’ on mining policy

Premier, Barry O’Farrell, is being asked to intervene in the development of a policy for how coal and coal-seam gas mining is conducted in NSW.NSW farmers are calling on the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, to intervene in the development of a policy for how coal and coal-seam gas mining is conducted in NSW as relations with the minister in charge, Brad Hazzard, deteriorate.

A motion calling on Mr O’Farrell to “urgently intervene” was supported unanimously at the annual conference of the NSW Farmers Association on Thursday (July 19)

In a statement, the association said the government was ”making a mess of implementing the policy” and accused it of “listening to the wishes of miners more than farmers”.

But Mr Hazzard hit back, questioning the association’s role in the stakeholder group that has been negotiating with the government.

“It’s extremely disturbing while every other member of the stakeholder reference group for nearly a year has respected the [process], for reasons best known to farmers they have decided to publicly position themselves,” Mr Hazzard said.

”It’s disrespectful to the process and the other group members trying to achieve an outcome.”

The row follows criticism by Mr Hazzard of a decision by the NSW Farmers Association and the NSW Irrigators’ Council to raise concerns about the government’s aquifer interference policy in the Herald.

The groups, which have been involved in confidential meetings with Mr Hazzard over development of the government’s strategic land use policy, are upset that some of the most controversial mining proposals will not be subjected to the aquifer policy under the latest plans.

Instead, “state significant” mining projects on high value land will be assessed using advice based on the policy from the Water Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, which is non-binding.

Following yesterday’s vote, the association’s president, Fiona Simson, said while the government’s appointment of a land and water commissioner to oversee regulation of exploration activity was a positive step, she wanted to see it backed up in its policy.

”Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like parts of the government are listening to voters and this is why our members have called on the Premier to intervene,” she said.

“We have been working hard with government and all stakeholders to get this right, and we will continue to do so. It is crucial for NSW to get the framework right so we don’t end up like Queensland.”

But Mr Hazzard said that “never in NSW has so much consultation and serious effort” been undertaken to develop a policy that balances the interests of farmers, miners and environment groups.

A spokesman for Mr O’Farrell said: “The Premier believes the Planning Minister is doing a terrific job designing a balanced policy in a very difficult area which Labor put in the too-hard basket for 16 years”.

Earlier, the opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, accused the government of sidelining farming and irrigation groups.

”Any notion of protecting our farmland, our food bowl, our water security is just taking a back seat to the government’s desire to boost mining,” he said.

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