MEMBER for New England Tony Windsor has used an address to the Australian Academy of Science to highlight the continuing conflict between mining and agriculture on the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Windsor was at the academy’s Canberra headquarters on Tuesday as part of a lecture series, “Caring for the Australian Countryside: Lessons from the past and present”.
He said the academy had recently provided input on the package of reforms to the mining approvals process he negotiated with the federal government in return for his support of the mining tax.
“These reforms will ensure coal seam gas or large coal mining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources would have to be assessed by an independent expert scientific committee before they can be approved,” Mr Windsor said.
The committee is one of the provisions that comes under the Commonwealth’s National Partnership Agreement with four states, including NSW.
But Mr Windsor told his audience he had some concerns in relation to the yet-to-be-released protocols being developed by NSW under the requirements of the agreement.
He said if these protocols, were just a “mirror image” of the recent NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, they may not meet the Commonwealth standards.
“There is a fear that this policy announcement will become the protocols – and they don’t address the issues of this area (the Liverpool Plains),” he said, emphasising that there needed to be real objectivity in the consideration of mining applications for the public to have faith in the process.
Mr Windsor said his audience understood the agricultural value of the Liverpool Plains, both in terms of its water as well as its soil.
“We can’t afford to make a mistake on some of the best soil in the world – we have to get the science right,” he said.
There was a particular concern from the audience, he said, about coal seam gas, perhaps because it was affecting so many areas.
“There was general concern with the fact that we just don’t know how drilling an 800m, 1km hole down through these aquifers will affect them,” Mr Windsor said.
“To suggest nothing happens, well, people, even though they may not be scientists, are sceptical of those claims.”