MINING AMENDMENT (SAFEGUARDING AGRICULTURAL LAND AND WATER) BILL 2009
Debate resumed from 14 May 2009.
The Hon. MICHAEL VEITCH
[11.49 a.m.]: I oppose the Mining Amendment (Safeguarding Agricultural Land and Water) Bill 2009. Mining in New South Wales already is subject to extensive approvals processes. When mining is approved it is subject to demanding ongoing requirements to protect the environment. The processes already take into account such matters as water resources. The requirements to take those matters into account were further strengthened in the amendments made to the Mining Act last year in this Parliament. In fact, the amendments made in 2008 provide an outstanding legislative framework to protect the environment.
Mining proponents are subject to approvals under the Mining Act as well as approvals processes under other legislation. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act provides for rigorous assessment before mining can proceed. Before a proposal for a mine even can be considered it must carry out extensive environmental studies. Studies are carried out during the period of an exploration licence and include, for example, gaining a good understanding of the hydrogeology of the area. Without such studies the Minister for Planning would not even look at an environmental impact statement that is submitted by a mining proponent in support of a proposal.
Companies considering a mining proposal also take into account the concerns of the community. They seek to address those concerns and to develop a way for the company and the community to work together. I draw to the attention of members, including the Hon. Trevor Khan, one particular proposal for mining, the Caroona coal project on the Liverpool Plains. The Liverpool Plains have high-value irrigated agricultural land—no-one could deny that. They also have very valuable underlying coal resources, and no-one could deny that.
The company has targeted its exploration area to minimise the potential impact on the agricultural community. The company also has announced that it is not considering longwall mining under the floodplains or the alluvial aquifers in the Caroona area. Furthermore, it has stated that it is not considering open-cut mining—another most important means of ensuring that the agricultural lands are affected to a minimum degree. The company also is already making clear some of the measures it will take to protect water resources if it is granted a mining licence.
The Government has asked that the proposed project undergo a rigorous, independent water study. A working group is well down the planning path for that study. To start the process stakeholder workshops were held. They had wide representation to ensure transparency and inclusiveness. It is clear that the legislative framework works effectively to safeguard water resources. It is also clear that every effort is being made to safeguard the water resources and the agricultural amenity of the Caroona project area.
Let me give another example of the responsible approach of New South Wales to managing the impact of underground coalmining. The Southern Coalfield Independent Expert Panel has undertaken a scientific review of the effects of subsidence in the coalfield. The panel endorsed the decision-making framework provided by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Mining Act. It also recognised the improvements brought about by the subsidence management planning process. As a result of the Southern Coalfields review the Department of Planning and the Department of Primary Industries have developed a broad action plan to further improve longwall mining and to reduce its impacts.
Where there are adjacent rivers or water supplies, approval for the project may be refused or the proposal may be modified to reduce potential impact. It is clear that the New South Wales Government already has excellent legislation and processes in place for mining proposals to ensure that our valuable water resources and agricultural lands are fully taken into account in proposals for mining that may impact on them. The bill before the House is unnecessary. On that basis, the Government will oppose the bill.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.52 a.m.]: We have just heard from the sorcerer's apprentice, but we have not yet heard from the sorcerer. We look forward to hearing from the Minister. On behalf of the Opposition I indicate support not only for the objects the bill that is before the House but, through negotiation, the bill that it will become. I think the legislation is laudable and that it has been needed for some time.
It has been an interesting period of negotiations. As Ms Lee Rhiannon indicated outside Parliament to the group at the meeting, we have been working to try to remove some of the concerns. While the objects of the bill are appropriate and proper, in many ways the bill, as it was introduced, is not acceptable; nor could it be acceptable to many community groups that comprise people from a mining background, people from towns and villages, and people from a farming background. As some people may have heard, I was interviewed by ABC Tamworth a few days ago. I was asked, "Do you agree with the bill?" I said, "I agree with the principles of the bill, but I have problems with parts of the bill." I was asked, "Can you negotiate with the Greens?" I said, "Well, yes. We're attempting to do that and, yes, we have been able to do that." The amendments to the bill I have formulated will make the bill take an important step along the way. It is interesting that two people who are so different in philosophy—Lee Rhiannon is from an inner-city background and I am from a four-generation farming background—
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
Ms Lee Rhiannon: I lived on a dairy farm too. You live at Redfern.
I acknowledge for the record that Ms Lee Rhiannon has dairy farming in her history. There we were in the negotiating room. She has the belief that intensive agriculture should not go ahead and I am of the view that we should have proper intensive agriculture. She has the belief that there should not be mining anywhere in the State and I hold the belief that mining is an important part of the State and should be included.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: You make a lovely couple.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: The Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes thinks we make a lovely couple. Given the differences in our backgrounds, philosophical perspectives and political directions, the meeting was cordial and productive. We have been able to reach the position of believing that the bill, while not perfect, will be a darned sight better with amendments and that it will be a step in the right direction for affected communities, such as communities around Caroona on the Liverpool Plains, communities around Gloucester, communities on the Central Coast, and other communities anywhere in New South Wales. The concerns related to definitions in an article on the classification of land in Agfacts. In my hometown of Crookwell we examined the definitions very carefully in relation to our concerns about—
The Hon. Christine Robertson: Wind farms.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: As the Hon. Christine Robertson correctly said, we were concerned about wind farms and their interaction with the farming community in my local area. We examined the classification and, while it showed early promise, it was found not to be useful. As quite rightly pointed out by the New South Wales Farmers Association, concerns were expressed during my contact with the Minister's office, in particular with the Minister's chief of staff. I asked, "Where are the accurate maps? How much land is involved in class 1 or 2 as described in the bill?" My own research, the research carried out by the Hon. Lee Rhiannon, and the information given to me by the Minister's office indicate that we do not know how much land is involved. We are not sure where it stands. Furthermore, there are no accurate maps that replicate what the classification stands for.
The other concern that was raised by the New South Wales Farmers Association is that the document does not have a legislative basis. The document quite rightly was developed by departmental officers to address an issue. I point out for the benefit of people in the gallery and those who read Hansard
that the other concern connected with the Caroona proposal is that if the BHP development were to go ahead, but not in the plains area, the definition would not be protective, as people expect it to be. Indeed, Breeza Plains is only in category 2 and, in fact, it precludes hills and rocky areas. That is why we needed to look for a better rationale, as Jock Laurie identified. Today is private members' day. At 12 noon we will have question time, and following question time the House will break for lunch until 2.30 p.m., when this bill will come back on. I am refreshing the minds of my colleagues.
The Hon. John Robertson:
Their minds are so empty!
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
There are many empty vessels in this place, and none is noisier than the Minister for Corrective Services, Minister for Public Sector Reform, and Special Minister of State. So much potential and so few promises have been delivered!
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 12 noon for questions.