The state’s first Land and Water Commissioner, to be appointed later in the year, will carry a heavy burden of expectation that the rift between farmers, landholders and coal seam gas companies will be narrowed.
Farmers have labelled the appointment as a breakthrough in their long running dispute with the NSW government and while cautiously optimistic this policy is a “good first step” in resolving the conflicts, the final verdict will be cast on what the commissioner achieves.
The Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the new Land and Water Commissioner would advocate on behalf of landholders and farmers who hadlong complained about their treatment by coal seam gas producers with the automatic right to access their land.
“The commissioner will act as an advocate, and have in place a template agreement regarding access,” Mr Stoner said at the weekend.
Access, however, is only one issue. The other is extraction rights.
What remains unanswered is what happens beyond the access phase.
And that issue was touched on by the NSW Greens Jeremy Buckingham, who has been a vocal critic of the existing arrangements.
He says the government’s initiatives do nothing to protect agricultural land and another layer of bureaucracy does not guarantee any protection.
That view has been echoed by the Lock the Gate Alliance.
The commissioner will need to be more than a mediator, and what farmers and the community are looking for is legislation which ensures important farming land is not overrun by mining and gas projects for the sake of royalty dollars.
The end of what Mr Stoner calls the “royalties holiday” and the establishment of a new regional community fund are more pleasing initiatives, but are not the main event.
While the government is chipping away at this issue, plenty of concerns remain on both sides of the argument.
This debate still has a long way to run.