Food Water and Minerals – why can’t we have them all?

The conscience of the nation has been stirred by the ever intensifying and increasingly bitter battle between farmers and miners and coal seam gas producers about land, water and the environment.

This newsletter has been constant in its efforts to remind governments that they are handling these issues quite badly — their main problem being that they have had it in the too hard basket for far too long in the forlorn hope that it will go away. It won’t. Significantly, and for no valid reason, current draft legislation lets gas producers off the hook.

Yet, it is interesting to discover that the government of Peru, not normally noted for its enlightenment, has recently passed legislation which meets the issues head on, while protecting the interests of all concerned. The legislation requires miners to meet with farmers and agree on the terms on which both of them can earn a living. Miners can’t arrive at a farm and say that they will start digging holes. If agreement can’t be reached, there is a process by which disputes are resolved, but it ensures that food security is enhanced, not retarded. Miners can earn good money while continually restoring the environment.

I simply ask the question as to why the Peruvians have left our State and Federal Governments so far behind.

You won’t get a prize for telling us the obvious answer. The bright spot on the Australian scene has been the Private Member’s Bill that Tony Windsor has just introduced into the House of Representatives regarding the protection of water resources in granting mining and gas leases.

As he said in Parliament, “Australia is a dry continent, but some of our best farm lands have an intricate network of underground water acquifers that nourish crops even during drought. If these acquifers are destroyed by mines and gas wells, they can never be replaced. All decisions that we make about mining must protect these water resources.”

He goes on to make the point that mining and water resources can exist together, but current State Government legislation heavily favours mining. His legislation will give the Federal Government power to intervene. You and I need to back him solidly.

More pragmatic legislation is needed urgently to cover the vital area of the rail infrastructure that is essential to mining, but must not destroy the viability of farming communities.

Three powerful mining companies who own major coal mines in the Galilee Coal Basin in Queensland — Hancock (Rinehart), Waratah (Palmer) and Adani (India) – have each announced that they will build their own standard guage railways, side by side, to the Port of Bowen. All three have their mining leases located reasonably close together in the region around Alpha in Central Queensland, west of Rockhampton. The north-easterly distance to Bowen is about 500 kilometres, and every farmer and grazier along the route will have three railways across his or her property.

They will also cut across many mining leases held by other companies. The problem gets worse when they get within 200 kilometres of Bowen. BHP has announced that it will build its own track from its mine near Collinsville on to Bowen, and it will be located right beside the other three Galilee tracks. Add to this the fact that QR National is building a missing link in its old narrow guage track located near BHP, and you have five coal railways side by side.

For the local farmers near Bowen, who produce a large part of Australia’s tomato crop, it will be like Paddington Station in London at peak hour.

I will tell you what the Federal, State and Local governments are doing about this — absolutely nothing.

They are so mesmerised by the royalties and mining taxes that they are going to earn from the vast Galilee Basin that they are frightened to do anything which will put this massive revenue in jeopardy.

The answer is that a brave political leader has to stand up and say that there will be one rail corridor to serve the Galilee Basin. It will have two heavy duty standard guage tracks within the corridor, and each of those tracks must have regular passing loops for use by the returning coal trains.

Someone has to support the rural industries who will be wiped out by this ridiculous nonsense which makes no economic sense for either the coal companies or governments, no environmental sense for the nation and crippling dislocation for farmers.

While I am commenting on the violation of rights for rural producers, let me also say that Coles and Woolworths rape them financially every day by driving down the prices paid to farmers for their products, to a point that is always below the costs of production, and telling them to plough the produce into the ground if they don’t like it.

They make mining companies look like saints. This nation has to make a decision. Do we want food security and its associated water conservation, as well as a prosperous rural sector that can provide that security, and do we want to provide food to a starving world by granting food exports a similar level of opportunity that we give to miners?

There can be only one positive answer to this one.