Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009



About this Item
SpeakersGay The Hon Duncan; Deputy-President (The Hon Amanda Fazio); Kaye Dr John; Brown The Hon Robert; Robertson The Hon Christine; Hale Ms Sylvia; Nile Reverend The Hon Fred; Khan The Hon Trevor; Moyes Reverend the Hon Dr Gordon; Cohen The Hon Ian; Colless The Hon Rick; Macdonald The Hon Ian
BusinessBill, 2R


MINING AMENDMENT (SAFEGUARDING AGRICULTURAL LAND AND WATER) BILL 2009
Page: 15754

Second Reading

Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [2.47 p.m.]: The part of the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009 that was picked up almost immediately by the Opposition and, in particular, by the New South Wales Farmers Association was the land classification system. Jock Laurie, President of the New South Wales Farmers Association, wrote:
      Dear Mr Gay,

      The NSW Farmers' Association supports the object of the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill as it aims to protect prime agricultural land (and water sources that feed prime agricultural land) from mining operations.

      The Association supports the general framework of the Bill but does not support the use of the existing Department of Primary Industry ('DPI') land classification system to define Primary Agricultural land. The DPI land classification system is based on analysis and mapping that lacks currency and which needs significant improvement.

I do not need to elaborate as that is certainly the finding of the Greens and the information provided by the Government to the Opposition. To that end the Opposition has worked with the New South Wales Farmers Association. The final, key paragraph of the letter states:
      However the Association believes that a new classification system is required that is based on sound science and is developed in close consultation with the agricultural sector. This cannot be developed immediately and it is proposed therefore that the Bill be amended so that prime agricultural land (and land associated with water sources that feed prime agricultural land) can be defined by regulation at a future date.

That was an important leap of faith by the president of the New South Wales Farmers Association. His letter picked up some of the concerns that had been identified by others. That letter assisted the Coalition to propose an amendment to the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. That amendment has been prepared in consultation with the Greens and the New South Wales Farmers Association and, dare I say, the mining industry—this is a statewide issue. I will read from the proposed Greens amendment on sheet C2009-035E. I point out that this is the sixth version of the amendment, the first being on sheet C2009-035. Each version was an improvement on the earlier version. The proposed amendment reads:

No. 1 Page 3, schedule 1, lines 6 to 8. Omit all words on those lines.

Proposed amendment No. 2 deals with classification. It reads:

No. 2 Page 3, schedule 1, lines 17 to 22. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:

prime agricultural land means land identified as such under a scientifically based land classification system prescribed by the regulations, but does not include any land of a kind excluded by the regulations.

That amendment is a fair way of classifying prime agricultural land. It is a huge leap of faith because it puts the decision and the onus on the Minister for Primary Industries, who is at the table. If the people of the State were to rely on his performance in the House today I suspect that, frankly, most would be appalled. Thankfully, many people, including those from the New South Wales Farmers Association, have seen the Minister behave properly and fulfil his duties under the Westminster system. The amendment is an important leap in protection as it removes the rush to put something in place that may be incorrect. That concern was identified by the Hon. Robert Hunter, QC, in his early perusal of the bill. I know that I, along with farmers and others, am very thankful for his advice regarding problems that need to be addressed.

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of a ruling of President Willis on 31 March 1993 that members speaking should not address remarks to persons in the gallery, who have no right of reply. Members should address their remarks to the Chair. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may proceed.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Thank you, Madam Deputy-President, for your learned and sensible words once again.

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I remind the people in the gallery of the statement I read out earlier.

The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: This amending bill is important, and we thank the Greens for accepting our input on the amendments. Greens proposed amendment No. 3 reads:

No. 3 Page 3, schedule 1, lines 30 to 31. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:

(b) such land as is identified in accordance with the regulations as land that is critical for the supply of water to prime agricultural land.

That is a definitive change to the identification of that land. Currently the bill reads:

(b) land on which, or within 1 kilometre of which, is situated a river or aquifer that feeds prime agricultural land.

New section 11B in schedule 1 to the bill reads:

(1) In this section:

aquifer means a geological structure or formation that is permeated with water or is capable of being permeated with water.

It was way, way too wide. Many people concerned to protect prime agricultural land would not support that definition. It was pointed out by way of comparison that with the Darling River at full water that description would apply to any of that land. In fact, it probably means any gully in New South Wales. That prompted the New South Wales Minerals Council to write to the Coalition. Dr Nicky Williams, from the Minerals Council, put her case forthrightly—and so she should. She represents an industry, people who work in that industry, and families. She pointed out that the real concern is that the bill increases the State's sovereign risk and negatively impacts on investment. She wrote:
      The amended Bill will prevent planning approval being given for new projects and also for existing projects to be modified or expanded. These restrictions apply regardless of whether there would be any impact of the proposed project/modification on "protected land".
She is quite correct. That stand-alone section affected the whole of the State, not just prime or protected land. The concern was that the bill supposedly protected prime land, but it would have stopped mining right across New South Wales. We accept that that was probably unforseen, but it caused a problem. Nicky Williams pointed out that that provision had the potential to affect $13 million of investment and 9,422 jobs. Projects affected would include the upgrade of the coal loader, the upgrade of the line through the Hunter Valley, and other areas way beyond the scope of the Liverpool Plains or Gloucester. The Greens accepted that concern and amended their proposed amended. The Coalition believes that we need go one step further to address another concern, a concern that is jointly shared by farmers and miners; that is, third-party appeal rights. Proposed section 11B(8) states:
      Disputes in relation to protected landDisputes in relation to protected landDisputes in relation to protected land

      If any dispute arises as to whether or not any particular land is protected land, any party to the dispute may apply to the Land and Environment Court for a determination of the matter (in which case the Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter).
The key part of our concern are the words "any party". Whether one is a farmer at Nyngan concerned about woody weeds, or a farmer near Dubbo concerned about being able to crop properly, those concerns are exacerbated by the words "third-party appeal rights". That does not mean the two parties that are directly—[Time expired]

Dr JOHN KAYE [2.59 p.m.]: I support with great enthusiasm the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009 and in doing so I congratulate my colleague Lee Rhiannon for tackling one of the hardest issues in land use management in the age of climate change. I also want to join with my colleague Lee Rhiannon in congratulating Tim Duddy, the Caroona Coal Action Group, the Gloucester-Stroud-Barrington Preservation Alliance and others in the Gloucester area, the New South Wales Coal Communities Network and the New South Wales Farmers Association for what has been a remarkable campaign to protect agricultural land from mining. I also want to congratulate all those people for the protest outside Parliament House today, which was a cogent statement of the issues. In many ways whatever we do here today can only vaguely reflect the hard work of the communities who have strived for so long to protect their farmland from the onslaught of coalmining.

I want to make it clear that there is more to this legislation than just protecting a farm here or a community there, although that is very important. This bill is about securing a future for food production in New South Wales in the face of an increasingly hostile environment. Much has been said by my Greens colleagues and me about coal and coalmining issues. We have talked a lot about the impact of the production of coal in Australia on climate change and we have talked about the impact on local communities, particularly in respect of community health and local economies. These are matters that are ever more germane to debate over the future, but they are not the subject of this bill. This bill is at heart about one very large question: Which is more important—coal and other minerals obtained by mining, or food? The answer ought to be very simple. There is absolutely no substitute for food other than hunger, malnutrition, starvation and famine. There are substitutes for coal and other minerals.

In the case of coal, there are highly cost-effective substitutes in the form of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Whatever your opinion of greenhouse—and in this Chamber sadly there seems to be a variety of opinions on the effects of 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere every year from the combustion of coal—it is clear that the climate is becoming increasingly hostile for agriculture. Stress on agriculture from biofuels and droughts is pushing up food prices around the world. We have already seen the price of tortillas double in Mexico over the past year, causing malnutrition. We are seeing significant increases in the cost of grains in China and increasing pressure on food prices around the world largely because of widespread drought.

It is significant that these issues will likely come to a head over the next three decades and with the sorts of climate predictions that are accepted by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research and Economics we could be facing significant and prolonged droughts in south-east Australia over those years. That will challenge our capacity to produce food. The worst thing we could do now is to stand by and watch the removal of prime agricultural land, particularly agricultural land that has a reliable and drought tolerant source of water. That is precisely what coalmining is doing throughout New South Wales, particularly in the Liverpool Plains area. It is simply unacceptable to say that we can bring into conflict the future capacity of this State to produce food and the need of a few large multinational corporations to make massive profits.

The capacity for farms and mining to coexist is highly limited. It is not only about the destruction of land itself either from longwall mining underneath causing subsidence or from open-cut mining. I admit, as I have before, that I was involved in open-cut mining in Victoria. It is a highly destructive process that leaves behind land that is not appropriate or suitable for agriculture. It is more than that and more than just the dust and pollution that comes from coalmining that makes many agricultural activities impossible. It is about interference with the water supply—and not just the aqueducts and rivers and the way in which underground coalmining, particularly longwall mining, ruptures aqueducts and cracks rivers causing a loss of water, but also the saline and other pollution that comes from coalmines.

If members do not believe me, they should go for a walk around rivers that are downstream from coalmines and have a look at the salt licks that are developing on so many rivers around New South Wales specifically because of coalmines and the huge volumes of highly saline water that are taken out of the mines and dumped into rivers, poisoning them and making them inappropriate for agriculture and town water supply. It is insane that we would put at risk the key ingredient for success in agriculture, a reliable water supply, in order to continue to provide minerals for which there are alternatives. At a time when farmers around Australia are focusing increasingly on sustainability and handing on their farms in sound working order to the next generation and the generation after that, the Government is deserting the project of sustainable agriculture in Australia.

It is very straightforward. The coal corporations, particularly on the Liverpool Plains, have access to the decision makers, and that access is superior to that which farmers have. It is a case of an imbalance of power between a small number of heavily cashed-up, very savvy coalmining corporations and a large number of communities that are not heard in the political process when there is money on the table and large corporations are shouting loudly.

In New South Wales the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Minister at the table holds three key portfolios—Primary Industries, Mineral Resources and Energy. Having those three portfolios wrapped up in one person creates a monumental conflict of interest. I am not making any adverse remarks, nor do I intend to do so, about the Minister himself. I may well delay that until another day. I do say that at a Cabinet table in a modern society there needs to be a separate and independent voice for agriculture. It needs to be separate from the pressures of primary industries, mineral resources and mining companies, and energy production. Where those important portfolios are wrapped up into one body, there is no separate independent voice within the Cabinet. There is no voice that says, "That is crazy. You cannot allow that mine to go ahead because the farmers that I work with and the primary production I am involved with stand to lose dramatically if that goes ahead."

Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: What about Country Labor?

Dr JOHN KAYE: What about Country Labor indeed. That is an exceptionally good question. The real problem lies with the economic and political power inherent in the large multinational mining corporations. They have a capacity to be heard that is not surpassed by anybody in our society, save and except for possibly real estate developers. Yet, if we are to make decisions about the next generation and recognise that tomorrow really matters, we have to listen to farmers and those who till the land and work the land, and who know the stresses that agriculture is under. They are the people who are responsible for food production, not only now but in future generations.

I am pleased to hear from the shadow Minister that a table has been created on which we can share common ground on this legislation. Why is that important? Imagine how future generations will judge us if we get this wrong. Imagine what will happen if this legislation does not go through and the Liverpool Plains are torn apart, its water supply polluted and its capacity to produce food degraded, and our capacity as a State to produce food is degraded. Imagine what will happen in 15, 20 or 25 years time when the next large drought hits, which has the potential to be much worse than the current drought. One of the few areas that can withstand drought will have been lost because its water supply is polluted and the land is gone. There can be no agriculture in those sorts of situations.

We must not stumble on the definition of "prime agricultural land". If it becomes a stumbling block, that will prevent the passage of this bill through its second reading stage and we will never be able to debate and finally resolve what we believe to be more important—food and agriculture. Future generations will judge our management of this State and its resources not on the basis of the finer points of a definition or a regulation but on the outcomes. If those outcomes do not include securing critical drought-resistant and drought-tolerant lands with reliable access to water from the ravages of coalmining, the judgement will be hard, as it ought to be. I urge all members to support this legislation.

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN [3.10 p.m.]: On behalf of the Shooters Party I speak in debate on the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water from Mining) Bill 2009—a lie in itself—which was introduced by Ms Lee Rhiannon. I state at the outset that this bill is a cruel hoax being perpetrated by the Greens on well-meaning and hard-working farmers. It is more of the Greens utopia—a reasonable sounding idea that will receive support in some areas but that will not receive full support. In the real world it cannot happen in that way. Let us be clear about this legislation. This is a bill to shut down coalmining, which is one of the Greens' stated aims. At the same time the Greens have chosen to use farmers as pawns in their political stunt. The object of this bill is "to amend the Mining Act 1992 to protect prime agricultural Land (and water sources that feed prime agricultural land) from mining operations".

We have heard arguments about how weak this bill is and we are aware that the amendments that will be proposed to it have been through five iterations. In the past I have been part of the rapid negotiations that have taken place in this Chamber to achieve suitable outcomes and the best results for the people of New South Wales. I know how difficult it is to put these things together at the last minute, and that principal reason why this bill should not be supported. On the surface it appears to be a reasonable and sensible piece of legislation, but that is how the Greens always dress up their stalking horses. If we look more closely at the bill, we find that aquifers extend across much of the State. The effect of this bill—and I understand that we are trying to amend it to ensure that it will not have this effect—is to inhibit exploration and mining across most of New South Wales. The Greens should have done their homework and drafted and crafted their bill properly in the first place.

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I call Dr John Kaye to order.

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN: The Greens' bill has the support of the Farmers Association. A few minutes before I came into the House I received the same letter that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke of receiving. I spoke to Jock Laurie and to his general manager about the position of the Shooters Party on this bill—an issue to which I wish to refer at the conclusion of my contribution when I might be able to offer a genuine solution.

Dr John Kaye: It is called a deal, not a solution.

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN: I am afraid that the Greens' bill is not a solution. Mining in the Hunter and Gunnedah regions directly employs nearly 9,000 people—statistics that have been referred to by other speakers—and the figures for indirect employment are many times that number. In 2007-08 the royalties from mining in these regions amounted to $573 million an d for 2008-09 they are expected to be $1.3 billion. That money helps to fund infrastructure and to keep alive towns such as Gunnedah. The Greens are a great party for process. However, there has been no apparent assessment of this bill to establish its social and economic consequences for New South Wales.

The aim of protecting land and water is already provided for under existing legislation. However, whether or not that legislation is strong enough and robust enough to protect the interests of farmers is another matter. Under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 any decision makers must consider the objects of the Act that specifically mention "the proper development and conservation of natural and artificial resources, including agricultural land", which, of course, would include water. Perhaps the question that should be asked today is whether the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act is robust enough in its protection. If it is not, perhaps we can do something about that, but not through this bill.

The bill is based on the assumption that mining and agriculture cannot coexist. Dr John Kaye, in his contribution to debate on this bill, talked about that issue. I do not believe that to be the case. Let us look at the Hunter Valley, which is the home to coalfields, is a world-famous winegrowing region, has a leading thoroughbred horse stud industry, and attracts more than 2.5 million visitors a year. While mining and agriculture do co-exist, sometimes with palpable tensions—and no-one has argued about that—they also work cooperatively to address the issues that affect them. That is the way in which things should be done. I do not believe this bill is necessary and I do not believe that it was presented to this House in good faith.

I understand that some farmers who might be affected are of the opinion that, if this bill is passed today, it will become law. That is not the way it works in the Parliament of New South Wales. The Government has the numbers in the lower House and the Government will decide whether this bill becomes law. Clearly, Ms Lee Rhiannon has misinformed those people. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition admitted that this bill was not perfect and he said that it would be amended to make it fit. However, any attempt to try to amend this bill is not the way to go. Peter Draper, the member for Tamworth, made representations—

The Hon. Rick Colless: Who?

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN: Peter Draper, the member for Tamworth in the other place. He is keen for the Shooters Party to support this bill so that it goes to the lower House and so that members, once again, can engage in a political one-on-one with The Nationals. People on the Liverpool Plains and in the Gloucester area are political pawns in a petty little game.

[Interruption]

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I direct the attendants to remove the person who is interjecting from the public gallery.

[The person interjecting was removed by the Usher of the Black Rod.]

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN: This bill is not about saving farmland. The person who has just been removed from the public gallery must be the guy who rang me up and would not leave his name. This bill is a stunt—a ploy by the Greens to dupe farmers into believing that they are friends of the farmers. Their record states otherwise. They do not want rice growers and cotton growers in New South Wales, and they do not want dairy farmers because cows cause methane. They do not want forestry operations in New South Wales—

[Interruption]

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Following the two interjections from the gallery I remind members of the statement I read earlier about the requirement for people sitting in the public gallery to observe the courtesies that the House demands. If there are any further interjections, I will have no option but to clear the whole public gallery. I do not particularly want to do that, so I implore people in the gallery to maintain the standards of behaviour that are required of members of the public sitting listening to the proceedings in the visitors gallery.

The Hon. ROBERT BROWN: I have large shoulders, Madam Deputy President; I can take it. The list goes on. New South Wales cannot afford the Greens. The Greens in Tasmania blocked the expansion of hydro dams to such an extent that Tasmania now has to use an extension lead from Victoria to power its industries. If genuine farmers who are being so cruelly used by the Greens in this exercise believe that they are not also a target, they should think again. This issue has been raised before. Irrigators with native vegetation on their property should be wary. Today the Greens are targeting coalmining, but farming will not be far behind. I say again that this bill is a cruel hoax by Ms Lee Rhiannon. Obviously farmers have a right to farm, a right to protest, and a right to have their objections and concerns addressed.

I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that this bill is not perfect. Even with the proposed last-minute amendments, it is still not what is needed. Adding a zipper to a sow's ear will not make a silk purse, and this is poorly crafted legislation. Why should this House pass a bill that even now is being described as less than adequate? If we are to do it, let us get it right the first time. In an effort to deliver something meaningful to genuine farmers on the Liverpool Plains and in the Gloucester area, over the next few months the Shooters Party will undertake to work with The Nationals—if they want to be part of the solution and sort this out properly—with the Government and with key stakeholders to develop a properly crafted bill that will have the support of all parties to address the issue of safeguarding agricultural land and water. That is a far better solution than some political stunt. It will not be an anti-mining bill; it will be a bill that meaningfully addresses the agricultural land and water issue.

The people of the Liverpool Plains and Gloucester deserve more than to be subjected to the political game playing that occurs in this place. I am sorry that some people listening to this debate are not happy with my comments, but I believe that we have got it right. People may not like what we have to say, but we are not playing political games. The Shooters Party is interested in achieving a genuine long-term resolution, not just being part of some political stunt.

The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON [3.20 p.m.]: I attended the first meeting of the Caroona Coal Action Group after the BHP Billiton exploration licence was announced. I signed for and paid my membership. I have not been contacted as a member since that time. However, despite masses of misinformation, some important issues came to light at that meeting, not the least of which was the importance of local people having access to employment opportunities. Living within the Caroona region at Walhollow are members of the important Gamilaroi Aboriginal community. Work opportunities for the people of Walhollow, Quirindi, Werris Creek and Gunnedah are important for the wellbeing of our communities. Following that meeting I returned to this place and discussed the issue with Minister Macdonald.

As a result of a suggestion by the Minister the Northern Inland Development Board is working with TAFE and the Aboriginal community to ensure that local Aboriginal people will be qualified to compete for work if the lease is let. The program is funded from BHP Billiton's community funds for the exploration licence. This sort of important and valuable community issue gets lost in the one-sided political campaigning to which we, as members of Parliament, often are subjected and participate in. The Government opposes the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. Although well meaning in its intention, the bill purports to protect agricultural land and water from mining operations through a range of narrowly focussed and unsuitable measures. We have in place already a carefully developed framework of legislation that safeguards against the impacts of mining. This bill is inconsistent with the existing framework.

Provisions in the Mining Act, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, the Water Act and the Water Management Act already provide for the effective management of environmental impacts caused by mining in New South Wales. This legislative framework uses merit-based assessment processes that weigh up the competing values of land. This allows mineral development values, agricultural values and environmental values to be brought into the right balance on a case-by-case basis. The debate on this issue today has not contained much balance. The bill seeks to override this process by introducing a blanket prohibition on mining on protected land. This is out of step with the approach of the current framework. Mining proposals should be considered on their individual merits—as is the case at present—so that all factors are considered, including the benefits to the people of New South Wales.

Furthermore, the bill seeks to impose limits on the approval processes under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act through the Mining Act. This is contrary to the direction of the 2005 planning reforms, which made that Act the primary approval process. The bill's proposal to define prime agricultural land as class 1 or class 2 land in accordance with Agricultural Land Classification is inappropriate. Although class 1 and class 2 lands are valuable, other land classes can be equally significant in supporting highly productive agricultural enterprises. This debate would be interesting if we were to say that class 1 and class 2 land was not to produce cotton or other type of agriculture that did not suit the popular issues of the time. For example, greenhouses do not require high-quality land, and fine micron wool often is produced from poor soils. In our region we have some valuable greenhouse industries, particularly on the tablelands, on land that I am sure would not be regarded as class 1 and class 2 land. Furthermore, the agricultural land classifications and the mapping that underpins them were created for strategic planning purposes only. The data was never intended for use as a property scale, as this bill proposes.

Any prohibition on land on which, or within one kilometre of which, rivers or aquifers are situated will have a devastating effect on mining. Aquifers extend across significant areas, and the terms of the bill could preclude exploration and mining from much of the State. Such a prohibition would have particularly serious impacts in the Gunnedah and Hunter regions. In June 2008 over 8,700 people were directly employed in coalfields in those regions, as we have heard already, and many times that number worked in mining and related service industries. I want to make sure that any future development provides opportunities for country people. We always hear about coalmines coming in and not employing local people, and only taking tradesmen. This program, which is one of a number in the region, will train and resource local individuals so that if companies are given leases, employment opportunities will come to fruition and individuals from the local community will be able to compete for the available jobs. By preventing new mines and any extensions to existing mines the bill will jeopardise at least 2,500 jobs in these important coalfields.

No scientific evidence supports the need for a fixed one-kilometre buffer zone. Currently, the Government develops buffer zones on a case-by-case basis taking into account a number of factors, such as the significance of water sources and the consequences of potential impacts on them. This approach provides a far more flexible and comprehensive way of protecting water sources. The bill proposes that the Department of Primary Industries will maintain an inventory of protected land. However, protected land cannot be effectively identified using current mapping and data. The land suitability mapping was prepared by the former Department of Agriculture between 10 and 30 years ago; it is inconsistent and needs updating. Statewide data on aquifers does not exist and would have to be developed. Earlier today the Minister announced some important information regarding the Namoi catchment. Unfortunately, others were not present to hear that announcement. Considerable resources would be needed to provide the consistent high-quality mapping and data required to enable the department to fulfil this function.

The bill will stop exploration and mining only on agricultural land and water. It will not apply to extractive industries, such as quarrying—which can have similar impacts on land and water—or any other activities. Despite the value of the mining industry, mining takes place on less than half of 1 per cent of the total land area in New South Wales. Ms Lee Rhiannon stated in her second reading speech that 8 per cent of land in New South Wales was used for cropping in 2006-07. Clearly, although some class 1 and class 2 agricultural land may be affected by mining, much agricultural land is not. The proposed blanket protection of agricultural land and water needs to be considered against the impacts of the bill on the economy of New South Wales. Given that the bill potentially will cost regional New South Wales millions of dollars in lost jobs, lost investment and lost services, I would have thought it prudent to have done more careful analyses of the issues involved. This would have shown that the objects of this bill already are well regulated in New South Wales by the Mining Act, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, and other legislation. It would have shown also that the proposed mechanisms set out in this bill are flawed. Today we heard some appalling examples of political grandstanding. Some of the concerns expressed are legitimate, but others are fed by political opportunism. Destructive one-sided politics does not serve our country communities at all. On this basis, I oppose the bill.

Ms SYLVIA HALE [3.28 p.m.]: I support the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. Indeed, it is a timely piece of legislation. Its purpose is to protect our prime agricultural land and water from mining. The Liverpool Plains and other food-producing regions are essential in the supply of food not only to Australia, but also to countries that rely in part on Australian agricultural imports. Too much of our fertile agricultural land has been devastated by mining, with the Hunter Valley particularly suffering from its ravages. I am conscious of that whenever I visit Muswellbrook when I see what is happening in that area, and how that impacts on the health of local residents. There are instances of respiratory disease and children are experiencing rare forms of cancer as a direct result of breathing in coal dust.

I acknowledge the people in the gallery whose behaviour has been exemplary. Many of them have travelled for hours to attend Parliament today. They left home early and they have long return journeys. They have sat quietly and, in some cases, have listened to drivel. If someone intends to write them off as dupes or people who have been cruelly hoaxed by the Greens and, presumably, also by The Nationals, it is really important that we at least listen to what they, as members of the community, have to say. I have received numerous letters and emails about the bill. For example, Martine Traill of the SOS Liverpool Plains organisation writes:
      According to ABARE, crop yields on the Liverpool Plains are consistently 40% above the national average. Not only does this area produce more tonnage, it grows a wide variety of crops, due to the reliable summer and winter rainfall it receives. As the climate and soils are so versatile we produce wheat, barley, sorghum, beef, cotton, maize, canola, chickpeas, soybeans, mungbeans, pigs/lamb/turkey and wool to name a few!

      Not only does this region boast such diversity of food production it also provides food security. Whilst Australia suffered one of the worst droughts in history, (and much of NSW is still in drought), the Liverpool Plains was still able to produce grain and meat. This is due to high water holding capacity of the soils, the region receiving effective rainfall and the area's high quality underground water aquifers for irrigation.

      Australia only has 6% arable land, we simply cannot afford to lose prime agricultural lands to mining highly polluting, outdated energy sources such as coal and coal seam gas.

Peta Craig is another person who wrote to me. She states:

      I am writing to secure support for the Bill proposed by Lee Rhiannon to protect prime agricultural land from mining.

      My family & I farm 10,000 acres on the rich Liverpool Plains at Breeza.

      Our family has been farming in this area for over 100 years.

      Our farming enterprise is currently under threat by mining exploration licences granted to BHP at Caroona & Shenhua with the Watermark Licence.

      In an average year we produce 10,000 tonnes of top quality wheat, sorghum, sunflowers & canola & 250 head of prime Shorthorn cattle. We are a family farm with our two sons, their wives & children. We are dryland farmers & every part of our operation is managed in the most sustainable way possible. We like to think that it is possible for these plains to be feeding people for centuries to come.

      This Bill is possibly the most important piece of legislation to come before the NSW Parliament for many years.

      Please take time to consider the long term repercussions of the coal mining industry. If it is at all possible take time to visit our area & see first hand the importance of this issue.

I understand that the Minister has received hundreds of copies of the postcard prepared by the Gloucester Residents in Partnership [GRIP]. However, it is one thing for the Minister to receive things, but it is another thing for him to deign to read them. In case these postcards slipped his attention, I take this opportunity to acquaint him with the contents. He might like to listen now.

The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: He is not in the grip of your thrall.

Ms SYLVIA HALE: No. He is more in the thrall of my GRIP. That is true. The postcard states:

      This postcard is being sent to you by residents and friends of Gloucester NSW who are being represented by GRIP Inc. (Gloucester Residents in Partnership). GRIP's goal is to ensure that coal exploration licences 6523, 6524 and 6563 are permanently removed so that no coal mining occurs in those areas. EVER.
      We believe that we must act together as a community to:
Protect our quality of life—now and for our children
Protect our existing rural, agricultural and food producing land
Protect our growing tourism industry and promote Gloucester as the gateway to the Barrington Tops World Heritage Area
Protect and preserve Gloucester's unique beauty (rivers, mountains, bushland, wildlife) for future generations
Drive a change in government thinking.
    That is a tall order. Indeed, that is a big ask. But they want the Minister to drive a change in State Government thinking. The postcard continues:

        The State Government advocates that if a "resource is there it should be harvested". This proposition ignores the wider reaching social, economic and environmental implications.

        We seek a sustainable balance which supports our community's wider need.
    That postcard represents the opinions of people in the community—the people who purportedly have been duped and cruelly hoaxed about the intentions of this bill. However, this bill is very straightforward. Its purpose is to amend the Mining Act 1992 to make provision for protecting agricultural land and water from mining. It does not say that we are going to stop all mining. It merely wants to protect elements in our community and our State that are essential for the wellbeing not only of the farmers and people who produce food but also of the rest of the community who depend upon the produce of farming communities.

    I must say that, as the Green's spokesperson on Planning, I am particularly pleased that the bill will override the operations of part 3A. Part 3A must be the most hated planning legislation that has passed through this Parliament in many, many years. So outraged are people by the operations of part 3A of the planning Act that elements of the community who ordinarily would not have a lot in common are forced to unite. It is terribly disturbing to see on the department's website the list of applications that have been approved—it shows application after application for mining operations that are being dealt with by the department. There seems to be no net or hindrance when it comes to the promotion of mining in this State. It is incredibly important for communities to stand up and say enough is enough. After all, it is the very staff of our life that is at stake. This bill will preserve important agricultural land. It will ensure that the mapping of that land and information about it is publicly available.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I remind Ms Hale that she should not be directing her comments to the public gallery, but through the Chair and to other members in the Chamber.

    Ms SYLVIA HALE: I apologise to members of the public in the gallery for turning my back on them, but I am required to do so. This bill will preserve important agricultural land. It will ensure that maps and information are publicly available. It will protect areas such as the Liverpool Plains from most types of mining. Equally importantly, it will protect the water and aquifers that feed those rich farming lands. I commend the bill to the House. I congratulate my Greens colleague Lee Rhiannon on introducing it. I congratulate The Nationals on their cooperation in ensuring that the bill is acceptable to as many elements in the community as is possible. I regret that the Minister is so determinately refusing to listen to what is being said.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [3.38 p.m.]: In joining in debate on the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009, I congratulate the Greens on introducing this bill, which is a perfect example of wedge politics. The bill is designed to carry out Greens ideology and the Greens objectives. The Greens political party, which has backed a great deal of anti-farming legislation, now wants to present itself as the farmer's friend. Sadly, in the gallery are many sincere people who have come here to watch this debate. Some of them have a farming background. Some have visited my office and spoken to me, urging me to vote for the bill. Some have expressed concern about possible damage to the Liverpool Plains area, the aquifers and so on. I understand the farmers' concerns. However, they have been misled into thinking that if the Legislative Council, which is a House of review, passes a private member's bill it becomes law. No bill can become law unless it is supported by the Labor Government.

    Dr John Kaye: That's not true.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: This legislation is totally opposed by the Government.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I remind Dr John Kaye that he is on two calls to order.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: The Government has indicated that it will not support this bill. The Greens have played a hoax: they gave the impression that if the bill is passed today it will take effect in New South Wales. It will not take effect. The bill must go to the other place, the lower House. We already know that. A few months ago we debated at length a bill, which I supported, that would have provided for the election of a new Port Macquarie council. That bill was debated and passed by this House, and then it went to the lower House. What happened to the bill in the other place? It is stone dead. The Government did not support that bill.

    Mr Ian Cohen: So what did you do—nothing?

    Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: My point is that, sadly, the Greens have misled the people in the public gallery for their own political purposes. I am sorry that the people in the gallery have been misled by the Greens. No doubt their legislation and other matters will arise in due course from the water resources inquiry announced by the Minister today. The terms of reference for that inquiry have been established. That inquiry will clarify the areas in the Liverpool Plains that need to be protected. The matter will gradually unfold through the water resources inquiry, not through the Greens agenda. This bill is a perfect example of the strategy that was adopted in the 1980s by extremist socialist parties, communist parties and Maoist parties that realised they were making no political progress or gaining political influence in New South Wales and Australia. At a secret conference—I have seen some papers from that conference—they agreed to change their strategy, abolish the Australian Communist Party and other organisations, and deliberately infiltrate other organisations.

    Dr John Kaye: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. I cannot see how some kind of conspiracy theory that Reverend Nile seems to be entertaining has any relevance to coalmining—

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I ask the member to direct his comments to the point of order.

    Dr John Kaye: I am. I am asking you to rule on the issue of relevance. The speaker is exercising a conspiracy theory that has nothing to do with coalmining or the substance of this legislation.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Other members have spoken unchallenged of their belief of the motivations behind the introduction of the bill. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile is debating a similar point. There is no point of order.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I am explaining the objectives of the bill, as did other members. These organisations realised that they could not make progress if they were clearly identified. Therefore their objective was to find out what issues they could exploit to gain political support. They looked at a number of issues. Can we continue to use the feminist issue? Can we continue to use the homosexual issue?

    [Interruption]

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I remind members of the public in the gallery that they are not to interject on proceedings in the Chamber.

    Mr Ian Cohen: It wasn't the gallery.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Members of the public in the gallery were interjecting also.

    Ms Sylvia Hale: How can people in the gallery stop themselves from laughing?

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! It is difficult for people in the gallery to behave in a proper manner and observe the rules of the House if members do not set a good example.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: After examining all those issues, these organisations focussed on the environment, which led to the birth of the Greens. They used the Greens and the environment as a political weapon to gain power and influence in the political world. That is why I nicknamed the Greens the watermelon party: green on the outside and red on the inside with a pink lining. The Greens have cleverly exploited environmental issues. It is interesting that the nations whose people had the most extreme socialist views and socialist governments, whether it be the Soviet Union or other countries, were causing the most pollution in the environment. Indeed, those nations produced acid rain, which destroyed the forests in Europe and so on.

    It was simply a political objective. The Greens have used environmental issues as a political pathway. They worked out how to exploit small groups, whether it be the farmers on the Liverpool Plains or residents in other communities. Over the years I have watched the Greens—all this can be documented—fasten onto a local issue and use it for their own purposes: they have used the sincere citizens of this State for their political agenda. The Greens jump on a bandwagon and exploit an issue for their own political purposes. Sadly, their strategy is working. I congratulate the Greens on their success in linking up hundreds of environmental groups, many of which do not realise they are supporting a political machine. Because of the political influence the Greens have gained, the Federal Labor Government led by Prime Minister Rudd must now negotiate with the Greens to try to get his carbon emissions legislation through the Parliament. That is the danger we face when the Greens gain political power and influence.

    Dr John Kaye: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. We have now gone from a conspiracy theory in the 1980s through to the trials and tribulations of the Prime Minister with regard to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I fail to see how that is in any way relevant to the subject of this legislation.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! As I ruled earlier, other members have spoken about their belief of the intentions behind the introduction of the bill. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile is doing just that. I ask the member to be generally relevant and not to stray from the subject matter of the bill.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: These are the reasons the House should not pass the bill. The passage of the bill—

    [Interruption]

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I direct the attendants to remove from the public gallery the people who are interjecting.

    [The people interjecting were removed by the Usher of the Black Rod.]

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: As I was saying, passing the bill will give further political mileage to the Greens, and I do not believe this House should do that, even if it were to satisfy the concerns of the people in the gallery. We saw—other speakers have referred to this—what happened when the Tasmanian Labor Government tried to work with the Greens: it found that their demands were impossible. That is why I cannot support this bill. It is not because of the content; it is because the bill will give the Greens greater ability to blow their trumpets and claim a great victory in this State, and give them further political oxygen. During my time in this Parliament I have been working hard to deny political oxygen to the Greens. The Nationals, the Liberals and the Labor Party should cut off the oxygen supply to the Greens because they are helping to create a political monster, which we will see take more effect at the 2011 State election if they gain control of the upper House.

    Dr John Kaye: Point of order: Let us have a close look at this. We have gone from a conspiracy in 1998 to the trials and tribulations of Kevin Rudd, and now we are at the 2011 election.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! What is the point of order?

    Dr John Kaye: The issue is relevancy. Nothing of what has been said today—it is a very fine attack on the Greens and I congratulate Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile on that—is relevant to coalmining, water and land.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I rule against the point of order for the same reason I stated earlier. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile is talking about his belief of the intention behind the introduction of the bill.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I am giving reasons why I cannot vote for the bill, which is the point of what I am presenting to the House. For the benefit of Dr John Kaye, after the next election it could be that, because of an obstructive upper House, both major parties believe they cannot function and get legislation through the upper House, so they conclude it is time to agree on the abolition of the upper House. If the upper House becomes obstructive, which it could under a move led by the Greens, it would undermine the future of this House, and that is another reason why I do not support this legislation.

    Other speakers have said, and the Greens have admitted, that this bill is poorly drafted and major amendments are needed because if it were ever law it would have a dramatic impact on the economy of this State. It is amazing to see the Greens, when they want to, give all discretionary powers over the extension of mining activities to the Minister. I can remember the Greens arguing day after day, "Don't give powers to the Minister", "Take the power away from the Minister" but now, when it suits them, the Greens play a different game with this legislation because they want to give power to the Minister.

    Does anyone in their right mind want to give any more political power to the Greens so they can force governments to adopt their policies, which cover a range of moral, social and economic issues? I will not go into detail because I am sure all honourable members are well aware of them. We must look at the big picture when voting for this bill today. We should not look at it as just a Greens bill with one Greens amendment, but at the long-term political impacts. The Minister announced the terms of reference of the inquiry for the water studies, which, as I said earlier, would lead to the necessary protection of sensitive areas.

    The Greens often raise their concerns about the amount of bore water farmers use. I wonder whether the people in the public gallery from the Liverpool Plains know what step the Greens will take next if this bill is passed. Perhaps the Greens will try to stop farmers from using bore water to protect it. Do the farmers in the gallery today realise that that is part of the Greens agenda? We should remember the native vegetation and threatened species legislation that governments have introduced, but that have been strongly driven by the Greens and the environment movement. All the farmers that I meet complain about such legislation, which the Greens regard as the best in the world. The farming community should be suspicious when the Greens want to be their friend and help them. For those reasons, the Christian Democratic Party does not support this politically motivated legislation of the Greens.

    The Hon. TREVOR KHAN [3.54 p.m.]: I had a long speech prepared, as have a number of other people, to speak on the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. I do not think I will bother. Let me deal, therefore, with a number of relatively brief points because I think all who are in this House want this debate concluded today. They want to see the vote taken rather than hear a long flapping of the gums. Let me first deal with people being duped. Amongst those who are in the public gallery today is a former Supreme Court Justice, who, one would think, is far more legally qualified than anyone else who sits in this House. No doubt he may see some basic problems with the bill, but he understands the intent and purpose of the legislation and its very importance. Are we to consider him to be a dupe of the Greens? I do not think so.

    There are businessmen from Tamworth, including my father-in-law, a not unintelligent man, a former mayor of Tamworth and still a very successful businessman. On Sunday evening at drinks—although I only had soda water again—I was left in no doubt as to his view. This was not about the Greens, although he might have views about the Greens; this was about prime agricultural land and about ensuring the sustainability of agriculture and ensuring that our landscape is not so destroyed that nothing would be left for future generations of farmers that farm the Liverpool Plain. That is not a position he has reached because he has been duped by Lee Rhiannon, John Kaye, Sylvia Hale or Ian Cohen; it is a view he has developed as an intelligent businessman because he knows the importance of that land. I am sure that is the same with the Supreme Court Justice and I am sure it is the same with all the other people who have travelled for five, six and seven hours to get here today. They are not motivated by stupidity. They are not motivated by trinkets handed out by Lee Rhiannon. They are motivated by a basic understanding and knowledge of the importance of that land.

    The Hon. Christine Robertson referred to prudent analysis. What she essentially seeks to argue is that we have all missed the point, everything has been done so well in the past, proper planning regimes are in place and everything will go well—a line out of Yes Minister, one would think. Prudent analysis, one might think. Nobody can doubt that exploration leases have been granted over hilly ridge country, certainly, and also over prime agricultural land without discretion over huge tracts of land. Part of the impact of that, of course, is that it acts essentially as a caveat on the land.

    It impacts on that land in a way that affects its transferability, the ability of people to make decisions as to what investments they are going to put into that land and their feeling of security in the land. Prudent analysis? It is just a broadacre application of a mining lease. Exploration leases were granted at a time when we know the Government was aware of problems with longwall mining in New South Wales. How do I know that? I can go to a document entitled "Impacts of Underground Coal Mining on Natural Features in the Southern Coalfield—Strategic Review", dated July 2008. What do we know from that document? I will read the introduction:
        Context

        On 6 December 2006, the NSW Government established an independent inquiry into underground coal mining in the Southern Coalfield and appointed an Independent Expert Panel to conduct the inquiry.
    This was in December 2006; it was not, Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, an announcement of some inquiry today about the southern coalfields. The document continues:

        The Inquiry was established by the Minister for Planning, the Hon Frank Sartor MP, and the Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon Ian Macdonald MLC.
    In December 2006 the southern coalfields were entitled to have a study undertaken. Why did they need the study? The article continued:
        The Inquiry was established because of concerns held by the Government over both past and potential future impacts of mining-induced ground movements on significant natural features in the Southern Coalfield. These concerns first surfaced in the community—

    when?—
        in 1994 when the bed of the Cataract River suffered cracking and other impacts caused by mine-related subsidence from the underlying Tower Colliery.
    I could go on, but the reality is that since the Government first came to power it has been alive to the fact that there are impacts upon mining in the southern coalfields. The Hon. Christine Robertson said there had been "prudent analysis". The Government knew that there was a problem, and yet exploration licences are issued over broad tracts of land without a by your leave and, more importantly, without prudent analysis, without the undertaking of a study, without even an assurance of appropriate studies being undertaken. This whole problem has caused people to travel half way across the State because the Government made a decision—a decision that it wanted the money that it could obtain from the issue of exploration licences.

    This problem is created by the State Labor Government's need for money; it is not based upon prudent analysis, on doing what is best for the people of New South Wales or upon creating employment. It is based upon a fundamental need to try to do something about the budget holes that the Government itself has created. In that regard, we cannot ignore parts of our electorates and, in essence, imply that the people are complete idiots. They are not; they are intelligent people who deserve to be listened to. They deserve to be treated with appropriate respect. Today we saw time and again that they had not been accorded that respect or regard. They have been treated as an embarrassment to the State Labor Government.
    We in the Liberal-Nationals Coalition are not interested in playing political games. If we were, we would have played the games that others have done with regard to the Greens. We have to deal with all the people in this Chamber, and be prepared to show appropriate and due regard to the different points of view. Whether that be by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, with whom on many occasions I share similar views, or whether it be with the members of the Shooters Party, or whether it be with the Greens members, we have to be prepared to negotiate fairly and appropriately. On this occasion Coalition members have attempted to do that to the best of our ability.
    Amendments have been negotiated to produce a fair and reasonable bill. To be fair, would we do things a little differently? Of course we would. However, every day of the week in Parliament the State Labor Government introduces legislation—and bits of it we can agree with, and bits of it we cannot. Every Coalition, every Opposition, every Labor Party that is not in government is forced to make a reasoned and considered judgement about whether to support the legislation. We make those decisions in a reasoned and practical way. That is why the Coalition supports the proposed amendments. That is why we fundamentally support the underlying premise upon which the bill is based: there is a necessity to ensure that prime agricultural land in New South Wales is protected and at the end of the day a balance must be developed. That includes recognition that prudent analysis must be undertaken before the family farm is sold.

        Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [4.04 p.m.]: The object of the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009 is to amend the Mining Act 1992 to protect from mining exploration and operations the State's prime agricultural land and its water sources. As a result of the proposed section to be inserted in the Mining Act 1992 an exploration licence, assessment lease or mining lease cannot be granted under that Act in relation to any such protected land; and planning approvals under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, such as development consents or part 3A project approvals, cannot be given for the purposes of mining operations on that land.
    Much of Australia, including the State of New South Wales, is barren, dry, desert or scrubland—and too harshly inhospitable to support life. Only a small percentage of the 800,642 square kilometres of land in this State has sufficient good soil, abundant water and the right weather to allow life to flourish—and allowing life to flourish is what we should be doing with this land. We should not allow destruction of precious land that has all the requisites for growing food; nor should we sell it, loan it, or give access to other people to destroy it with wasteful and damaging technologies.
      Let us consider an activity that is known to be harmful—for instance, the long-established, unfettered mining exploration permitted by the State Government, this tearing up of the very fabric of life, with resulting despoliation of groundwater, and human and animal ecosystems and habitats, leaving them unusable afterwards, and taking all the financial profits offshore to foreign shareholders, so that it is not even we who get a benefit from this devil's bargain. That is an obscene scenario, but that is what is happening right now, as we speak. According to the 2006 census the vast majority of people in New South Wales, 93 per cent, live in urban areas and tend not to have had any experience of the basic truth that we are utterly dependent on the land for our very lives. It would be news to many city people that food does not just arrive fully formed, clean and packaged, in our shops.

      However, past generations were still living on the land and knew these things, observed the effect of the passing seasons, saw the interrelationship of weather and growth, worked in harmony with the life cycle of the animals and birds, and understood the primacy of soil and water. Despite modern people's technological savvy, they have no idea how this basic earthy reality works—they are more caught up in the virtual world of their electronic gadgets and have experienced nothing of the food chain. That disconnect from the reality of food growing, and our dependence on systems of water, soil, weather, and the labour of our fellow human beings, has led to the blindness that lets the mining industry ride roughshod over those few people remaining on the land.

      Not all land is created equal, and not all land can grow food—it takes many different factors to make good agricultural land. The wilful destruction of our prime New South Wales agricultural land is genuinely wicked—in the original sense of the word, meaning evil. The claim that halting mining of agricultural land will impact on mining jobs is true, but if we do not halt mining it will impact on the wellbeing and livelihood of countless people, the inviolability of their homes, the value of their farms, the aesthetic attraction of the rural setting which sustains tourism and, most importantly, destroy an important part of the food supply for our population now and in the future. Exactly whose interests are paramount in this situation? Certainly not the mining industry's!

      Surely it is obvious that these prime lands must be preserved—at all costs—for the feeding of our people. That is not a Green political ploy; it is a logical, a Christian, and a democratic desire. The State Government needs to take steps now to protect the population from the effects of climate change, the current and expected future fluctuations in world economies, resulting changes in global and local markets, and the tumultuous changes that are inevitable with peak oil. What is critical to our future food security is our wonderful New South Wales farmland, such as is found in the 7,000 square kilometres of fertile black soils in the Liverpool Plains. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, crop yields on the Liverpool Plains are consistently 40 per cent above the national average. This is due to the high water-holding capacity of the soils, the region receiving dependable rainfall, and the excellent underground aquifers for irrigation. We should let nothing endanger them.

      Dr Susan Thompson, from the Planning and Urban Development Program at the University of New South Wales Faculty of the Built Environment, recently expressed at a conference her view that policy regarding long-range food sufficiency should be included in State and local government planning, and should take into account all aspects of land use, health and equity, and I agree with her.

      The impact of climate change and decreasing rainfall in New South Wales makes it all the more critical to retain agricultural areas where the conditions are good, such as the Liverpool Plains and the upper Hunter. These areas are the State's food bowls and they grow enormous quantities of grain and seed crops, including wheat, canola, sunflower and sorghum, in wonderful abundance. The flat farmlands are dependent on underground aquifers and surface drainage, both of which would be contaminated and otherwise physically damaged by the various forms of mining proposed by the industry. Mining contaminants include heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, as well as carcinogenic and radioactive compounds, which should not be allowed into the environment and water tables. There should be a strenuous effort to strengthen the laws protecting our precious arable land and the water that it requires for safe, uncontaminated crops.

      The Government claims that it is committed to ecologically sustainable development of all industries, including the mining industry. How then is it that the Mining Act, as it stands, destroys livelihoods, heritage value, groundwater and streams, and leaves behind ecological disasters, with the proceeds going into the pockets of overseas investors, not even our national coffers? This is madness and it surely is not evidence of ecologically sustainable development. It is, rather, ruinous development and terribly harmful to the people trying to make a living on the land. The "right" to have your land "remediated" after it has been violated and destroyed in the first place is meaningless. So-called remediation cannot bring back the exquisitely complex fabric of life that was there before it was obliterated.

      There has been much admirable action by community members in protesting against current policy. Farming families in the Caroona area have banded together to blockade, on a roster basis, any workers from BHP from accessing property that had been granted to them for exploration by the State Government. Friends and neighbours and local citizens have supported the farmers for many months now in keeping BHP Billiton from getting onto their properties. People who want to live their lives on the land, and who want a future there, whether their families have been there for five generations or they have just recently shifted there from a city, should be supported to do so. We need these people on the land to grow the food that city people depend on. It is inspiring to see such communities sticking together against the rich multinational corporations whose economic interests are given preference over those of the people who live there. The frame of mind that allows governments to sell access to minerals out from under people in their homes and farms is from another age, and is anything but enlightened. This profligate world view is not one that has any regard for social justice, and seriously needs to be urgently re-examined by us today.

      The Mining Act came into effect before the term "climate change" was ever heard of, when the outback seemed to go on forever and the Australian population was small. We no longer live in that age; we live in a time when every square metre of rich ground with good running water needs to be recognised for the amazing blessing that it is, and must be cherished and protected. I would like to emphasise that point: our scarce food-bowl country in New South Wales must be recognised as such by the Government, and cherished and protected by the Government. I have received hundreds of messages from people who have telephoned, written and emailed me. I will not go through even the best and the wisest of them but the people who live in these areas understand and they make sense. Not one person who contacted me supports mining, or exploration for potential mining, on agricultural land. As Edward James of Umina put it:
          The politicians are apathetic, but everyone else in the community is completely against mining of the agricultural lands—the farmers, the towns people, the Councils. In fact, the only people who are for it are the ones who are on their knees to the banks and have no other choice but to give in to mining.
          The Liverpool Plains agricultural area relies partly on groundwater for irrigation purposes. Irrigation licence allocations have been cut back severely under the Water Management Act—up to 90 per cent for some individuals—and local people are very aware of their water allocation. Mining exploration processes would take even more water away, which would also permanently contaminate it, rendering it unusable for any other purpose. I understand that the New South Wales Farmers Association does not support the use of the existing Department of Primary Industries land classification system for defining prime agricultural land because it is based on obsolete data. The association believes that a new classification system should be developed, and that will be dealt with in a foreshadowed amendment. Agriculture is mankind's most important activity, as we all have to eat to survive. Paul Ehrlich, in his book One With Nineveh: Politics, Consumption and the Human Future, posits that:
          Modern civilisation's most important challenge is the provision of an adequate diet to everyone; in a world where people in many other parts of the world are starving everyday it is an abomination for us to allow the destruction of arable land. Resources such as agricultural lands and sources of fresh water are elements of natural capital that are being lost or degraded at an alarming rate and being turned into non-renewable resources.

      This problem of the destruction of land is not new. I remember from my studies of the classics, in particular philosophy in classical Greek, the philosopher Plato in his Critias described land deforestation and agricultural deterioration in the Greece of 650 BC with words that could be used today when looking at the aftermath of mining exploration:
          What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left.

      Plato's warnings went unheeded, as our warnings today are not being heeded by the Government, because throughout history the rich and powerful have taken, used up and spat out whatever they wanted in order to please themselves. I hope the future will be very different. I will quote only one other person, a remarkable German scholar of mining and metallurgy. I ask members to listen to these words and I will then mention when he wrote them:
          The strongest argument of the detractors is that the fields are devastated by mining operations Also, they argue that the woods and groves are cut down, for there is need of an endless amount of wood for timbers, machines, and the smelting of metals. And when the woods and groves are felled, then the beasts and birds are exterminated, very many of which are pleasant and agreeable. Further, when the ores are washed, the water which has been used poisons the brooks and streams, and either destroys the fish or drives them away. Therefore, the inhabitants of these regions, on account of the devastation of their fields, woods groves, brooks and rivers find great difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life. Thus it is said, it is clear to all that there is greater detriment from mining than the value of the metals which the mining produces.

      That was written by Georgius Agricola in 1556, nearly 500 years ago, and the description of mining's destruction of the environment is still perfectly apt, is it not? The protection of our prime farmland and its water resources is long overdue, and I am pleased to support this important bill.

      Mr IAN COHEN [4.18 p.m.]: I support the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. I take this opportunity to respond to statements made earlier and thank the Reverend Fred Nile for his comments on the Greens. I will wear those comments as a badge of honour in the future. I feel very comfortable to be totally disassociated from Reverend Fred Nile's inquisitional politics. The necessity for a bill of this nature arises from a lack of vision that does not appreciate how to secure our food supply, our environment and our very livelihoods. This Government remains indoctrinated in natural resource dogmas that are quickly eroding and consequently approaches to natural resource management in this State are becoming devastatingly malign.

      This approach is a blinkered strategy in an unrestrained exploitation of extractive non-renewable resources at the hands of the Minister for Primary Industries. Earlier speakers referred to the conflict of interest between mining, State development and agriculture, which is putting too much power in the hands of one member of Parliament, and that power is being abused. Once again we see a migration of power and money, whether it be in the city or in other areas of this State. This Government is focusing on the big end of town; it is not focusing on our communities. The Minister's vision for natural resource management is trapped in this dying paradigm.

      The Minister's strategy is to ramp up and expand mining, pour more royalties into the State's coffers, and contribute a measly and nominal funding increase to environmental programs. In the Minister's eyes, to deliver an environmentally healthy New South Wales we must mine more so that we can have more royalties to pay for environmental programs. That is the Minister's breathtaking vision for managing natural resources and the natural environment. A perfect slogan for the Minister would be: Mining our way to a greener future—a type of green wash of the most diabolical order. I put it to the Minister that the need to increase government funding for environment and conservation programs has an important correlation to environmental degradation and ecosystem depletion associated with inappropriate mining development.

      Destroying ecosystems that support agricultural production to pay for their pastoral repair is about as short-sighted as one can get. Time and again I have raised the need for the agricultural sector to turn the challenges of climate change into economic and environmental opportunities through different approaches to agricultural production. Soil carbon sequestration, minimum and zero tillage farming, and alternative grazing regimes represent just the surface of the opportunities for agriculture in this State. Investment in and improvement of agricultural ecosystems and ecosystem services that reverse escalating ecosystem depletion—in part, a result of climate change—will be directly undermined if the total supremacy of the extractive resources is continued.

      This Government has established mechanisms, with highly varying degrees of success, that recognise the value of ecosystem services. Whether we are talking about water trading, salinity trading schemes or biobanking, there is an implicit acknowledgement that, beyond underscoring human subsistence, ecosystem services deliver real and tangible economic benefits to society. The natural machines, in the form of nutrient-rich soils that provide the foundation for agricultural production, must also be protected and their value recognised. Our environmental planning framework has been so irreparably manipulated that it provides no mechanism to quantify properly the value of prime agricultural land.

      The Minister has left this House with no choice other than to put in place mechanisms that stop the issuance of exploration licences over prime agricultural land. The Minister's failure to take account of the ecosystem depletion costs and the implications for food security on the Liverpool Plains resulting from mining exploration is manifestly unreasonable. Developments in ecological economics, ecosystem service markets and agricultural environmental management systems have forged ahead of the archaic understanding of natural resource management displayed by the Minister and the Labor Government. They are missing the boat as new generations of environmental and agricultural managers are embracing a holistic conceptualisation of natural resource management rather than simply focusing on non-renewable mineral, gas and petroleum resources.

      There is an undeniable disparity and inconsistency in how we conceive of and manage natural resources. In traditional approaches, all natural resources are not made equal. Our legal system has always displayed a tendency to encase the right to minerals, petroleum and gas in an impenetrable armour aided and abetted by politicians wedded to the service of the extractive industries. But the tectonic plates are shifting and our understanding of natural assistance is becoming more sophisticated. At best, this Minister remains oblivious to that and in some cases is antagonistic to this transition. The long-term answer to protecting agricultural lands, inclusive of the ecosystem services that support food productivity, must focus on acknowledging the fundamental value of soil health and conservation, viable water systems and sustainable agriculture. We must look not, as so many political parties and governments do, towards the next election; we need to leave a legacy for future generations. I believe that this bill, which has the support of many members, is an attempt to do just that. I commend the bill to the House.

      The Hon. RICK COLLESS [4.24 p.m.]: It is with pleasure that I speak in debate on the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. I state at the outset that I am not opposed to the mining industry; in fact, I strongly support the mining industry in New South Wales and Australia. I have lived for many years in a town called Inverell—a town that has a long mining history, with tin, diamonds, silver, lead, zinc, gold, sapphires and aluminium all being mined in that district over the past 150 years. It is an industry that brings great wealth to our nation but mining needs to be done in balance with agriculture, its sister wealth-creating industry.

      As a farmer, soil conservationist, agricultural consultant and someone who has worked on the Liverpool Plains in previous years, I have held the view for many years that the deep, black soils of the plains are arguably the best agricultural soils anywhere in the world. I say that with some authority as I have worked with my hands in the dirt all my life as the son of a farmer and grazier; as a student of agriculture and as a tertiary student of agriculture who studied soil science, soil and water engineering, pasture and crop agronomy; as a soil conservationist developing conservation farming techniques on the Liverpool Plains and other areas of northern New South Wales during the 1980s; and, more recently, prior to my entrance into this House, as an agricultural consultant specialising in soil nutrient management.

      It is with this experience that I know that the soils of the Liverpool Plains and, more particularly, those of the upper plains in the Caroona-Spring Ridge area are some of the soils most suited to long-term agriculture that I have ever had the honour of working with. These soils have the capacity to produce food and fibre for generations to come. We cannot sit back and say that so many millions of dollars worth of coal are under the soil that it is worth far more than just a few years of agricultural production from that land. This land will still be producing food and fibre crops indefinitely into the future—not for 100 years, 1,000 years or 10,000 years, but for as long as humans remain on this earth.

      Recently I had the honour of visiting some of the most ancient farming land in the world—the Loess Plateau of the Shaanxi Province in China. These soils have been farmed for 5,000 years. They have suffered their fair share of land degradation in that time, particularly massive gully erosion, organic matter decline and fertility decline. Chinese authorities are now addressing those problems, but the land is still being farmed profitably and it is still providing much-needed food for the Chinese population. Who could imagine that the Liverpool Plains would still be farmed in 5,000 years? I certainly can, and I would like to see that occurring.

      Large-scale farming on the plains did not really commence in earnest until the middle of the last century. Before that they were largely treeless plains, grass country that was used for sheep and cattle grazing. The soil on the Liverpool Plains is a black, self-mulching clay soil, quite heavy in nature, and was difficult to cultivate with the small horsepower tractors that were available in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Most of the early farming in that area was limited to the lighter-textured soils on the ridges rather than the heavier-textured soils on the plains themselves. With the advent of higher horsepower tractors in the 1950s and 1960s, they were able to cultivate the plains grass country and it very quickly became obvious how valuable these soils were for intensive agriculture.

      Large-scale farming operations expanded quickly, much of it irrigated, and the farmers on the plains were some of the most innovative and progressive farmers in Australia. They quickly recognised the potential for damage to their soil, not so much from the traditional soil erosion with which they were familiar on their sloping land but from the severe sheet erosion during flood events when large sheets of water covered the plains as floods came down from the main catchments of the Warrah Creek, Big Jacks and Little Jacks creeks, Coomoo Coomoo Creek and Yarraman Creek. Where the sloping areas of the catchments meet the low-sloping areas of the plains themselves the water simply spreads out across the plain.

      These farmers soon adopted changed land management practices to cope with these large, but relatively shallow and slow-moving, flows of water. Strip cropping, where the crops are planted in narrow strips at right angles to the direction of water flow, was widely adopted, followed by reduced tillage and zero tillage cropping, thereby reducing soil erosion to the minimum amount possible.

      Many farmers worked closely with departmental advisers and researchers to develop these systems, which were adopted quickly by the majority of farmers on the plains. The farmers of the Liverpool Plains have a long history of protecting their most valuable asset: their land. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when their land once again is threatened by another form of land degradation they are quick to move to control that threat. Gross margins on the plains have a much higher average than most other farming regions in Australia. I have received many emails on the subject, as have other members. I paid particular notice to one such email from the Grant family as it set the scene for the issue with which we are dealing. They point out that their dry land grain production for the past 18 months has been in excess of 15 tonnes per hectare of grain from a mixed variety of crops, with some farms in that region producing up to 20 tonnes of grain in 18 months.

      This is to be compared to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics [ABARE] Australian grains report dated May 2009 showing the average Australian production on 0.9 tonnes per hectare in 2006-07 and 1.2 tonnes per hectare in 2007-08. This exemplifies the importance of the area as the premier grain producing area of Australia. Should this land be farmed for another 5,000 years—and there is no reason to suggest it cannot be farmed for that length of time—at an average yield of 10 tonnes per hectare per year, calculated on the example of 15 tonnes over the past 18 months, each hectare will have produced 50,000 tonnes of grain over that time. At today's average price of $350 per tonne for prime wheat, that equates to $17.5 million worth of food for the world per hectare from the Liverpool Plains. We should amortise the value of coal that may be produced from under those plains over the next 5,000 years and see how that stacks up. Of course, one problem is that post-mining agricultural production is an unknown factor.

      I turn now to refer to some of the provisions of the bill. When Ms Lee Rhiannon concluded her second reading speech I advised her immediately of my philosophical support for the bill, but also pointed out to her some of its flaws. I shall now refer the House to those flaws. Firstly, the definition of "aquifer" is flawed as it includes any geological structure capable of being permeated with water. All geological structures are capable of being permeated with water. Some of the most valuable aquifers in the upland areas are fractured rock aquifers, with the amount of water stored in them dependent on the degree of fracturing. All soils are capable of being permeated with water. That is how rainfall enters the soil profile to allow us to grow crops. That definition alone, if agreed to, would mean that virtually all land in New South Wales would be alienated from mining.

      The second flaw is the definition of "prime agricultural land", which has been discussed in depth. The term "prime agricultural land" is a relative term, not an absolute term, and it has never been defined appropriately. When I worked in the department many years ago, the term "prime agricultural land" was thrown around at every conference and meeting I attended in an attempt to get people to work out what on earth it was. It is a relative term in that what is regarded as prime agricultural land at Caroona will differ remarkably from what is regarded as prime agricultural land at Cooma or Cobar. I suggest that if you told a Cobar farmer that his land was not prime agricultural land, you would get shot to pieces. Statewide agreement has never been reached on exactly what is prime agricultural land, and in my view such agreement is unlikely ever to be reached.

      The third flaw is to be found in clause 11B (3) (b), which states that an authority cannot be granted on "land on which, or within one kilometre of which, is situated a river or aquifer that feeds prime agricultural land". Does that mean the high watermark? As I said earlier, when the catchment creeks above the Liverpool Plains flood, water spreads across the plains and covers virtually all of the plains up to the foothills of the islands on the plain. If we were to restrict use to a kilometre on each side of those flooded catchment creeks, we would have virtually no capacity to do any mining, quarrying or anything else on any site. Extending the analogy further west to the Lake Cowal goldmine, the bill will prevent that mine from operating because the mine is within one kilometre of a body of water. The restriction will apply to any of the western river systems. For example, when the Darling River floods it can be between 50 kilometres and 60 kilometres wide. Therefore, if a restriction were to apply to land a further kilometre on each side of that river, essentially most areas already being mined in that region would be restricted from mining.

      I commend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for negotiating his way through a number of amendments, which he foreshadowed, to try to overcome some of these flaws. The first amendment he proposed will remove the flawed definition of "aquifer". I will be pleased to see that definition removed. The amendment will remove also the simplistic Department of Primary Industries definition of "prime agricultural land" to allow for a land classification system that has a far more scientific basis. While the bill leaves this aspect open, it will be subject to further review by this House when the relevant regulation comes before this Parliament. Another amendment will remove the problem associated with the one-kilometre buffer zone, and will rightly allow for proper evaluation of aquifers and geological structures essential for the supply of water to agricultural land. The final amendment will remove also the right of a third party appeal, which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition explained clearly in his contribution.

      If these amendments are adopted, the bill will protect the Liverpool Plains and other similar highly valuable agricultural land in New South Wales, without placing unworkable restrictions on the important mining industry in New South Wales. The Coalition's policy is that any exploration of the plains should be preceded by an independently funded, full hydro-geological study. I emphasise the words "independently funded". If that study were to show a potential for damage to aquifers in a particular area, no mining would be approved in that area. In the Minister's announcement during question time today that Mr Mal Peters will chair the study he did not mention how the study will be funded. Yesterday during question time the Minister clearly said that he would not pay for any such study. Of course, that raises the issue of probity and the independence of any results. Why would a mining company fund a study that may eventually prevent one of its projects from proceeding—unless it already knows the results of the study?

      Let us examine briefly the risks of coalmining under the Liverpool Plains. As I see it, longwall mining operations under the Liverpool Plains have two potentially serious and deleterious impacts. Firstly, longwall mining removes large slabs of coal that can be hundreds of metres wide and several kilometres long. Post-mining, which can happen progressively as mining proceeds, can result in subsidence over a wide area. The degree of subsidence will not directly reflect the depth of the coal removed as much fracturing occurs, and the amount of surface settlement is a fraction of the full thickness of the coal seam removed. However, realistically, the removal of a five-metre coal seam could settle at least half a metre or more on the surface. On sloping land that is not so much a problem, as the area can drain and some minor land planing can resurrect the slope.

      In the Gunnedah basin underground mining over the years has caused much subsidence already. When I worked in the department we had to address, from a soil conservation point of view, how to rehabilitate subsidence areas, particularly where farmers had paid for the installation of graded banks and waterways to protect their land from erosion. Of course, when land subsides problems result because riverbanks no longer follow the contour of the land. However, on the Liverpool Plains, a half-metre settlement would create a pond that could not drain because of the low slope of the country. For the same reason it could not be land planed. For a start, where would we get the dirt from?

      To fill a hole you first have to dig a hole, and that would be absolutely ridiculous. The result would be—and members may recall that a few moments ago I referred to the plains being completely covered with water during a flood—that half a metre of subsidence would create a lake on the plains, and that could take months or perhaps years to dry up. One of the real issues that the people of the Liverpool Plains face in the event of subsidence is how they will manage the land from then on.

      The second problem I foresee is that there can be no definitive assessment of what will happen to geological formations following subsidence. If relatively impermeable rock structures that may, and in some cases do, confine the aquifers on the plains are fractured as a result of subsidence, the integrity of those aquifers may be compromised and the reliable supply of irrigation water may evaporate. I know that that is another issue that the people of the Liverpool Plains are really concerned about. For those reasons, I will support the bill. I will support also the amendments that are proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I commend the bill to the House.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Energy, Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for State Development) [4.40 p.m.]: I oppose the bill. It is a bill that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, by his own admission, describes as imperfect. According to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Duncan Gay, the whole legislative package is imperfect, yet The Nationals and the Liberal Party are prepared to support it. Is this a sign of a government in waiting? No, it is not, and that is quite clear.

      To take such radical action without full consultation with industry and affected communities shows extremely poor judgement. This nation is not in recession, and that is because of the strength of our exports, especially exports from the mineral sector, which has been demonised in this House this afternoon. The bill, which was introduced by the Greens, and amendments that are supported by The Nationals, will serve only to further erode the ability of this sector to meet our economic needs over time. Over the past three years I have been meeting stakeholders on a regular basis about the issues arising out of a grant of an exploration licence to BHP Billiton in the Gunnedah Basin. All those meetings were fruitful and productive. They are testament to the importance of all sides being willing to sit down and negotiate in good faith. The result is that the water study that was submitted to me last week, and which I referred to in question time today, will go ahead under the chairmanship of Mr Mal Peters.

      This is a bill that trades on fear and innuendo. It is a bill that attempts to cash in on the myth that farming and mining cannot coexist in this State. Today we have witnessed the absolute demonising of the mining industry by a number of members who participated in the debate. That is very regrettable indeed, basically because the long-term future of farming and mining and of regional communities can be assured only if we find ways of working together—not by one side demonising the other side, exaggerating the potential consequences, and denying that very thorough processes are in place to assess each and every issue that has been raised by every speaker in today's debate.

      Over time processes have been informed by both the Coalition, when it was in government, and by Labor in government. They do not constitute a procedure that has been conjured out of thin air. The procedure is very detailed and requires something like 40 to 45 major studies to be conducted by a proponent—any proponent. That the Greens are now trying to cast themselves as the defenders of farmers is nothing short of reprehensible. It was not long ago that Greens members of the House were calling farmers criminals—all because farmers wanted to clear woody weeds off their own lands. How quickly things change! So for the benefit of the Greens and their friends The Nationals and those who are not aware of the Greens history I will take some time to inject reality into this debate. This will show what the Greens really think about farmers. In this House on 6 May 2005, Mr Ian Cohen stated:
          The Greens do not support intensive farming practices, and would like to see this form of farming phased out.

          This of course would mean the end of feedlot, pork, dairy and poultry industry activities.

      Those industries would be eliminated in regional New South Wales.

      Ms Lee Rhiannon: No. He said they would be phased out.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: In the end, "phased out" means finished. Again in this House, on 14 November 2007 Mr Ian Cohen stated:
          People and the health of rivers must be put ahead of the profits of agribusinesses Crops such as cotton and rice are too water intensive

      His comments imply that those industries would join the list of intensive industries that will be put out of business. I might add that those industries are worth in the order of $2 billion to the New South Wales economy each year. I remind Mr Ian Cohen that farm businesses of all sizes feed our nation and other countries across the world. How about Ms Lee Rhiannon's call for extra taxation on farmers in the Greens e-brief on 27 March 2005? She said:
          The Greens were unsuccessful in attempting to retain the existing land tax rates and arrangements for wealthy landowners

      The use of the term "wealthy landowners" demonises successful farmers. But I think the clearest picture of the Greens attitude towards rural communities can be found in their own policies, which are stated on the Greens website. I suggest that people have a look at them to inform themselves of what we are dealing with in this context. I will summarise the policies. Farmers would be horrified if they read Greens policies. They hit hard at the heart of water availability for agricultural production. They would hit intensive farming systems hard and would put an end to furrow irrigation practices in the Namoi. They would make farmers pay for the capital costs of major dams, and end irrigation during low-flow periods. That would destroy another category of agriculture in our country—horticulture.

      The Hon. Duncan Gay: Are you not doing a country land buyback?

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I am not talking about country land buyback. Horticulture requires water for permanent plantings in low-flow periods—in other words, summer. I do not know what would happen to the Riverina if the Greens policies were enacted. The Greens policies are clear-cut, and I think the Greens are probably proud of them. And what would New South Wales receive in exchange? If Greens policies were enacted, we would receive a loss of jobs, broken communities and wasted export opportunities. This bill aims to prevent mining on protected land, which is defined as prime agricultural land, or class 1 and class 2 land. I am pleased that the Hon. Rick Colless made such an important contribution when he said, "That's like saying, 'How long is a piece of string?'" What are the definitional criteria that a Minister, if we accept the amendments moved by The Nationals, would have to use to work out what that is over the next year? What an absolutely incredible contribution.

      The Hon. Duncan Gay: We were obviously giving you too much credit.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: The Hon. Rick Colless knows it cannot be done.

      The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the first time.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I have sat here and listened to everyone without interjecting, so the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should give me a bit of a go. This bill would effectively end mining in the State by providing for huge buffer zones. I am interested to see which way the Greens vote when it comes to the issue of buffers. What Ms Lee Rhiannon is intending to do today will end the Greens policy for one kilometre of land each side of a stream. I am looking forward to that vote.

      In essence, this provision will devastate the entire mining industry and seriously harm the economic fortunes of regional New South Wales. The Hunter and Gunnedah regions are perfect examples. As has been pointed out, mining in those two regions employs more than 8,700 people directly, and the multiplier employment effect is in the order of 3.5 per cent. The Opposition should work that out. It represents a lot of jobs for a lot of people.

      Both the amendments and the bill could also jeopardise immediately at least 2,500 future direct employment opportunities in the region, if the amended bill satisfies rigorous environmental analysis. If the mining applications are approved and the mines go ahead, the combined Caroona and Watermark projects could generate over the life of the mines for the State royalty revenue exceeding $8 billion based on current values. Both projects are worth approximately $230 billion to our economy. However, we should remember that a rigorous, transparent and comprehensive approvals process is mandatory before any mining lease is granted. To make the position very clear, I also point out that the Charles Sturt University conducted a large study and found that local government areas with significant mining activity have an income across all individuals that is $7,000 above incomes in local government areas that do not have a mining sector.

      We must remember that in many areas experiencing drought, it has been the mining sector that has employed the sons and daughters of the bush and has kept the farms working throughout the drought period. I know that to be fact because I have spoken with many farmers in the Orange area who have survived the drought by working at Cadia—a mine that is attacked regularly by the Greens. We must remember that both mining and agriculture have made huge contributions to the economic future of this State. Agriculture alone is worth $5.6 billion, and it is estimated that mining will contribute $13.4 billion to the State's economy this year. These are significant figures and they must be protected. The Government is not about not protecting agricultural land and it is not about destroying aquifers or anything else.

      For instance, the Hon. Trevor Khan, in his contribution, mentioned the southern coalfields water study—yes, we did a study on longwall mining there—but he did not mention what it found. The comprehensive study, done with agreed experts, found that longwall mining can be managed environmentally and that the Mining Act and the four other Acts that inform the situation in this State, acting together, can protect the environment and minimise harm. The member did not mention that tail in his contribution. Given a chance, and leaving aside the rhetoric that people will bring to it, the water study will be able to ascertain the limitations to land usage in that area.

      As I said, the mining industry contributes significant royalties directly to the State, and those royalties go towards building public housing, hospitals and schools. Last time I looked, the Greens supported that; obviously they are not rejecting that revenue for the State. Mining has been particularly important for regional New South Wales as the State continues to endure the worst drought in history, and it will continue to play a vital role in regional economies in the current economic situation. Any proposal to ban mining from agricultural lands would have significant impacts on regional investment and jobs. As for defining those lands, I have seen some of the maps, and some of the proposed mine areas within that region are classified well below that of prime agricultural land, so pinning hopes on that—

      The Hon. Duncan Gay: This is the definition that you said was undefinable.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I do not believe it can be defined, but I have seen maps that suggest that it can—such maps have been produced in the past. The Greens do not seem to understand that mining is responsible for the building blocks of everyday life. We forget that it is used in agricultural machinery, fuel, power transmission, transport and rail lines through to the most basic of kitchen and homewares. We cannot live without the fruits of mining. We must have, and continue to have, mining, but it must be done in a proper way.

      The Hon. Rick Colless: We still need agriculture.

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Of course we still need agriculture. Yet The Nationals are prepared to support an extreme bill that creates disharmony between farmers and miners and seeks to destroy an industry that supports many regional communities. People are being warned that this bill will devastate the industry—that can be found in correspondence. I turn to the environment. Despite the size of the mining industry, the diversity of minerals and the location of resources, mining operations are conducted on less than half of 1 per cent of the total land area of New South Wales. Mining uses approximately 60 gigalitres of water—a tiny fraction of the 6,000 gigalitres allocated for consumptive purposes in our State. About 1 per cent of water is allocated to mining. We should get a few things in perspective. Mining does not use massive amounts of water, as some people have suggested. So much for this affecting agricultural production!

      The Greens water policy would have a bigger impact on agriculture than mining proposals do in this State. We are well aware that, while the area of activity might be small, mining can require the intense use of land, even although for a limited time. But mining and agriculture can and must co-exist. This Government recognises that it is vital to protect agricultural land and water during and after mining operations. Because of this intensity of land use, one of our most important responsibilities is to regulate mining in such a way as to minimise environmental impacts. This means encouraging mining methods that have the least impact on the environment. The Hon. Rick Colless, in his contribution, mentioned the deep black soil of the Liverpool Plains. I do not know of any proposal to mine under those plains. Indeed, I think the proponents have said publicly that they will not be mining under those plains.

      The Government has developed rigorous environmental management standards for the mining industry. There is a strong legislative framework in place to ensure that the impacts of mining activities on the environment are minimised. That is another mistake that people make when dealing with this issue. I do not have the responsibility to deal with either a development application or the granting of a development application; that is the responsibility of the Minister of Planning. As such, my role in relation to this issue effectively ended when the licence was granted. From now on it is a planning matter, working out the date to deal with it in a proper way under the planning instruments of this State.
      The legislative framework for the environment is made up of five main Acts: the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, the Mining Act, the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, the Water Management Act and the Water Act 1912. Together these Acts provide a comprehensive framework for the management of the impacts of mining on the environment. They do that now. The five Acts work to protect the mining environment in different ways. Time does not permit me to deal with each one in detail. In this process, all relevant values will be assessed to achieve an appropriate balance between mineral development values, agricultural values and environmental values. All proposals, from very small projects to multimillion- dollar projects, are assessed through this framework.
      The Minister for Planning is the approval authority for all coalmining projects and major mining proposals, while local councils and shires are the consent authorities for other mining projects. If a project is approved under any of these processes, conditions can be imposed on the project to ensure that the environment is protected. The operation of this legislation gives us great coverage now, and agricultural land is considered within that framework. Make no mistake, this bill will destroy mining in New South Wales. The $14 billion that mining contributes to New South Wales would be lost, thousands of jobs could be lost and billions of dollars in royalties could be gone. That is because the bill will prohibit mining approvals within one kilometre of water sources, and it will ban mining on class 1 and class 2 agricultural lands, the cost of which will sterilise massive volumes of coal.
      I am interested to hear what the Leader of the Opposition in the other place will have to say about this policy, and what he will say to the many stakeholders who visit him. The proposed amendments by The Nationals would make things worse. They would increase the uncertainty surrounding the process of assessing mining proposals in a proper and effective way. Instead of referring to a one-kilometre buffer, the proposed amendments refer to "land as is defined in accordance with the regulations as land that is critical for the supply of water to prime agricultural land". Try to work that out! I am sure that even the Hon. Trevor Khan, who is one of the brilliant lawyers in this Parliament, would struggle to work out what that means. And he knows it! Also, large areas of the State could be sterilised, depending on the regulations adopted by the Minister of the day. This bill gives the Minister a lot more power, and that would constitute a massive sovereign risk for mines in this State.

          The Hon. Duncan Gay: It would if you take our amendments on board.

          The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I am talking about your amendments. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not listening to me. Also, at least "aquifer" has a defined meaning in the original wording of the bill. Reliable, transparent processes are out and discretion and uncertainty are in. That is the proposed amendments in a nutshell. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been jammed so hard at one end that he is screaming at the other end. He cannot work out which way to go on this bill. On one hand he has been pressured by those who have taken a rather strident attitude towards this issue and who have not participated in consultations and the process of working through the issues together.

      He has also been pressured by organisations that have other reasons to push a difficult process. The consequence is that he recognises it is imperfect but he wants to go with it at this point because of those political pressures. This is not the way to govern in this instance. We need to take a rational approach and work through this system cooperatively with farmers in line with our environmental and planning legislation, and allow the water study to address some of the other issues before we proceed.

      The Hon. Duncan Gay: Like you've done!

      The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I have not forced anything. I have been discussing the issues cooperatively with everyone. I note that throughout this debate the Shooters Party has been very clear: it wants to look at the potential for some form of a proper bill. In due course the Government will cooperate in discussions with the Shooters Party. It is sensible that the bill and the amendments be thrown out. They are too destructive to this State. They undermine this State and in the end they will undermine regional communities dramatically by reducing their gross product.

      Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted to permit a motion to adjourn the House if desired.

      The House continued to sit.

      Item of business set down as an order of the day for a later hour.