FARMERS are calling on NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to widen a ban on coal seam gas mining near homes to include farmland.
Cabinet on Monday night approved a two-kilometre exclusion zone to be imposed around residential areas, to prevent new coal seam gas exploration and production activities.
There will also be exclusion zones for identified critical industry clusters, such as horse breeders and wine producers.
But a meeting of 70 farmers from across NSW in Sydney yesterday accused Mr O’Farrell of failing to value stretches of farmland the same as residential areas and other industries.
They are calling for a consistent approach for the entire agriculture sector as well as for urban areas, vineyards and horse studs.
“We believe there are places in this state that are too priceless to put at risk through mining and gas activities,” NSW Farmers’ Association president Fiona Simson said in a statement.
“The O’Farrell government has reached the same conclusion but hasn’t extended that to our food and fibre-producing lands.
“We think nothing should be more important.”
At the meeting, the farmers passed a motion in support of the premier’s decision to take a tougher stance on coal seam gas compliance but called on the government to improve it by applying the 2km buffer to farmland and water resources.
Federal independent MP Tony Windsor said the NSW government was driven by politics rather than sound policy and failed to understand the issue.
“This announcement is designed to appease horse breeders and wine makers in the Hunter Valley and residents of western Sydney, but it does nothing for farmers,” he said.
Mr Windsor said the mining approvals process should be based on independent, scientific risk assessments – “not a collection of random thought bubbles masquerading as policy”.
“This announcement is a knee-jerk reaction from a government that just weeks ago was insisting it had the strictest coal seam gas regulations in the country,” the member for New England said in a statement.
As part of the measures, the government announced chief scientist and engineer Mary O’Kane would review all coal seam gas activity in NSW, including the effect on water catchments.
But Mr Windsor described it as “a vague promise” designed to “fob off” people with legitimate concerns and called on the federal government to intervene.
“The only way to ensure our water resources are protected for future generations is to have the commonwealth intervene under the powers of the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act,” he said.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham described the move as a cynical ploy to win marginal western Sydney seats in the federal election later this year.
“Tony Abbott is worried about losing those seats, because coal seam gas is a massive issue,” he said.
Mr Buckingham accused National Party MPs of sitting on their hands and failing to stick up for farmers.
“They have done nothing to bring around regulation and control of this industry in our farmlands,” he said.
“If it’s unsafe near a thousands homes near Campbelltown, it’s unsafe near one home in Boggabri.
“This is the first recognition from the highest levels, the premier himself, that this industry is unsafe, unwarranted and unnecessary and he should rule this industry out across the state.”