Land Access Strategy fails Queensland's landholders
The Queensland Government has proudly announced its commitment to introduce new measures to improve relationships between farmers and resource companies through its Land Access Strategy. But a commitment to easing access to farmland for mining development falls woefully short of the type of Land Protection Strategy that is desired by farmers across the state facing land acquisition from mining interests. This commitment does nothing to provide any meaningful security to land holders, to prime agricultural lands, or to high value conservation areas all at risk by the continuing expansion of coal.
According to the press release from the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Stephen Robertson, Cabinet has approved the preparation of legislative amendments that provide for a more consistent and transparent process that will clarify landholders’ rights when their land is accessed for exploration.
These amendments are the product of the Land Access Working Group, established by the then Mines and Energy Minister Geoff Wilson in 2008 to ensure that land access processes are clear, fair and reasonable to all parties. The working group comprises representatives from the mining sector (via the Australian Petroleum Producers' and Explorers' Association, Queensland Resources Council, Association of Mining and Exploration Companies) and two peak agricultural groups - the Queensland Farmers Federation and Agforce.
According to Minister Robertson, the policy framework developed by the working group:
is about providing certainty to all stakeholders about their respective rights and responsibilities when it comes to land access.
The amendments proposed under the Land Access Policy framework include a single land access Code of Conduct for all resource sectors, and standard agreements between parties to make negotiations "more simple".
Even on the face of it, the proposed framework is clearly much more about reducing the negotiation time, cost and investment uncertainty for mining interests than providing protection to landholders.
In substance, the framework does little more than consolidate the rights of those undertaking mining exploration, and confirm the lack of rights for landholders.
And this has been recognised in the response of the state's peak farming body Agforce, themselves represented on the Land Access Working Group. Because despite the Government's position that these amendments are the product of negotiations between the peak mining and agricultural groups over a period of more than 12 months, it clearly fails to deliver what farmers and the agricultural industry are asking for: some certainty and transparency over the protection of quality farmland.
The Chair of AgForce’s mining taskforce, Ian Burnett, said landholders were rightly frustrated by the time taken for the Government to deliver any kind of certainty in relation in the food versus coal debate.
And although Agforce acknowledges that this announcement paves the way for a consistent code of conduct for landholders whose land is being overtaken by exploration and mining leases, it doesn't begin to approach the kind of comprehensive policy framework to secure the future of farming enterprises and food production, ensure parity and consistency for all stakeholders, and create appropriate protections for food and energy security in Queensland's farming lands.
According to Mr Burnett:
We hoped today’s announcement would provide the rules of engagement between resource companies and land holders, to ensure a fair and equitable playing field so all stakeholders know their obligations and rights.
However, the Minister did not provide a tangible outcome in the ‘farming vs mining’ debate and we are concerned that a further delay will open the gate for more productive farm land to be lost to gas and mining infrastructure.
A year after the State Government held community mining summit meetings into land use and competition, and two years after the Land Access Working group process began, we are only now seeing any progress that they are committed to preserving good quality ag land in the face of development impacts such as gas and mining.
But this commitment is yet to translate into a comprehensive policy.
We are constantly seeing some of our most productive farming areas threatened through the complete lack of strong proactive policy.
Again, AgForce calls on the Queensland Government to follow through with the long overdue need to identify these good quality agricultural areas appropriately and provide a comprehensive policy framework to secure the future of farming enterprises and food production.