Farmers’ cautious welcome
for state CSG commissioner
A STATE land and water commissioner to protect the rights of landholders in negotiations with coal seam gas (CSG) companies has been welcomed as a “good first step” by farmers.
But critics of the controversial CSG industry say the move is “too little, too late”.
NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner on Saturday announced a raft of tough measures for the state’s CSG producers, which also include the end of a royalty “holiday” for the industry and a new regional community fund.
The Nationals leader says the new land and water commissioner, to be appointed by the end of the year, will advocate on behalf of landholders and farmers who have long complained about their treatment by CSG producers with the automatic right to access their land.
The commissioner will oversee the creation of standardised land access agreements for CSG exploration on private land, Mr Stoner says.
However, existing access laws will remain.
“The commissioner will act as an advocate, and have in place a template agreement regarding access,” Mr Stoner later said at the Nationals’ state conference in Bowral at the weekend.
“Farmers and other landholders do need to be treated fairly and with respect.
“We’ll be looking to lift the bar when it comes to the negotiations and also compensation.”
NSW Farmers’ Association president, Fiona Simson, says the community has been asking for such protections in negotiations over the government’s yet-to-be-finalised regional land use plan.
“It is a good step forward, particular the announcement of the land and water commissioner in terms of ensuring that we do have balanced development in NSW, that we are looking after the energy needs of our state as well as our farmlands and our water resources,” Ms Simson said in Bowral.
However, NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham says while the changes are a big win for the community, they do nothing to place agricultural land “off limits” to CSG producers.
“Another high level bureaucrat does not satisfy the community’s demand for protection,” says Mr Buckingham.
“We need legislative change to end the automatic right for mining companies to enter private properties to conduct exploration.”
Community group Lock the Gate alliance says the changes come too late, and don’t go far enough.
“What farmers have been asking for is the right to say no to access agreements, not for more process that still gives gas companies the right to march on to their land,” says alliance vice-president Jacinta Green.
“There needs to be some areas of NSW off limits.”
Mr Stoner has declared the royalty “holiday” for the CSG industry over, with producers no longer to enjoy the five-year exemption from paying royalties.
He says CSG companies will also be asked but not obligated to contribute to a regional community infrastructure fund, with the government refunding $1 to the companies for every $2 committed up to 10 per cent of the royalty take.
The NSW Minerals Council cautiously welcomed the appointment of a land and water commissioner “if implemented properly”.
“We’re yet to examine the detail, but broadly speaking, we hope this new role will provide increased confidence and certainty within the assessment process,” says council chief Stephen Galilee.
State Opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, says the new land commissioner is a “vote of no confidence” in Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, but he supports the scrapping of the royalty holiday.