New front opened in mining war

Source @ The Australian – 16 July 2011 – by Jared Owens

KEN Sullivan’s fourth-generation family property has become the latest flashpoint in the test of will between the booming mining industry and the agricultural sector.

The 4600ha wheat and legume farm in central Queensland is in the heart of one of the nation’s richest food bowls. But the property is also in the sights of minerals exploration firm Bandanna Energy, which has proposed a new underground coalmine.

Mr Sullivan has joined forces with other aggrieved growers — just one outbreak of hostilities in a larger battlefield stretching from the rich coalfields of Queensland and the Liverpool Plains in NSW, to mining areas that ring Sydney.

But the 71-year-old says he has more right to be outraged than most, since the Bligh government promised him less than two months ago that new mines would be banned from appearing anywhere near the state’s so-called agricultural “golden triangle”.

“But it only took them two days to backflip and let the mining companies walk all over them,” he told The Weekend Australian on his property at Springsure, 600km northwest of Brisbane.

“It’s simple: governments sniff mining royalties and they can’t help themselves. Who can blame them? But we’re facing a world food shortage, and saving your prime agricultural land is a lot more important.”

The security of strategic cropping land is shaping as a major election issue in Queensland, with the Liberal National Party annual convention yesterday voting to review all mining and exploration permits if it wins the next poll, due within 11 months.

Under Queensland’s SCL proposal, the golden triangle should be off limits to new mines unless the developers submitted their environmental impact statement terms of reference by May 31.

Bandanna Energy — which was two days late — struck a deal with the Bligh government to be exempted from the laws, designed to protect prime agricultural land from the explosion of coal seam gas and minerals exploration across Queensland.

Under the deal, the mine will be permitted to “permanently alienate” prime cropping land provided it attempts to “mitigate or minimise” whatever damage is caused.

Land is deemed to be permanently alienated when other activities prevent cropping for 50 years or more. For its part, Bandanna agreed to abandon its plans for a destructive open-cut mine, instead opting for a less lucrative underground one.

Natural Resources Minister Rachel Nolan said the government feared “switching the goalposts” on the company could have stoked fears of sovereign risk, spooking investors.

Mr Sullivan fears the protection will not prevent subsidence from destroying his crops.

“All of Queensland seems to be built on coal, so why do they come here? It’s because we’re close to railways and port access, so they can take more profit.”

Bandanna Energy managing director Ray Shaw said minor subsidence was possible but damage would be “very, very manageable”.

Agricultural land on the Darling Downs is also protected by the SCL regime.

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