O’Farrell allows coal seam gas companies to circumvent protections for farming land

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Coal seam gas companies will be able to circumvent the gateway process that the NSW Government claims will protect strategic agricultural land in NSW, under a secretive new government policy issued last week.

Despite promising to protect farms marked as strategic agricultural land, the O’Farrell Government’s ‘Interim Protocol for site verification and mapping of biophysical strategic agricultural land’ shows coal seam gas companies can actually challenge and bypass the process altogether.

The State Government has issued no media release and made no comment about the existence of this document, which significantly weakens the regulatory regime for coal seam gas development on agricultural land.

Under the policy, a coal seam gas company can challenge the classification of a farm as strategic agricultural land - and force the landowner to meet ten criteria to prove it is.

If any of the ten criteria are not met, the farm will be declassified as strategic agricultural land, and left without any protections from coal seam gas development.

“The Government has now significantly weakened what was a very weak policy to begin with,” Shadow Planning Minister Luke Foley said today.

“The O’Farrell Government’s rhetoric about protecting strategic agricultural land is completely worthless, because they are even giving coal seam gas companies the power to bypass their own limited protections.

"The result is a swiss cheese effect, where coal seam gas infrastructure can be built on land throughout an agricultural region without the company even being required to go through a gateway process.

“The Government is allowing the coal seam gas industry to proceed on some of the State’s most productive and iconic agricultural land.

“Not a single hectare of NSW is reserved for food production, in breach of the Liberals and National election promise of no go zones off limits to coal seam gas extraction.”

Mr Foley said the O’Farrell Government should listen to the community and press the pause button on coal seam gas operations across NSW until it can be proven there are no risks to farming land, water aquifers and the environment.

“Until a water-tight regulatory framework is in place based on independent scientific research and conclusive evidence, we should not be allowing coal seam gas mining to proceed unabated."