Farmers V Miners – The battle gets serious.

The New South Wales and Queensland Governments are planning to implement and/or change legislation to protect strategic cropping land from encroachment by mining and gas ventures.

This has been made inevitable by the high profile of the issue in the recent New South Wales election, particularly in the electorates in the Hunter Valley. Similarly, the farmers of Queensland have been highly militant on the issue with a State election looming, while in Western Australia there has been a very lively battle going on about mining getting underway in the wine country of Margaret River close to a couple of my favourite vineyards.

With this in mind, governments are moving on the issue. In Queensland, documents on proposed legislation to be enacted before the election, including maps of protected land areas, are available for comment this month, thereby putting the Opposition in a position where they can’t reasonably oppose legislation that is designed to protect farmers. They can, of course, come up with better legislation.

The key issues seem to be two-fold — what is a satisfactory description of arable land, and how much money will miners be required to invest to progressively restore the land to at least its original condition, year by year, instead of leaving it until the end of a mine’s life.

With the former, I have just read some predictions on how land will be qualified, and it seems that land will have to pass eight qualifications to be declared arable. These qualifications range from soil depth and rockiness through to salinity and soil water storage.

On the other hand, requirements for land restoration by miners will be tough. It is important that it be very tough, based on the awful devastation that a number of miners have left behind in parts of the Hunter Valley, some of which looks like moonscape.

One way or another, the right balance has to be achieved.

There is an enormous and growing demand for food for the hungry billions of the world, and Australia can cash in on that market to a far better extent than we are doing now.

At the same time, it is mining that keeps our nation solvent, and miners must get a fair go so long as they are environmentally responsible and share their prosperity with all Australians.

We should all keep a close eye on this, as the battle will generate anger from both sides in the months ahead.