THE National Farmers Federation is moving to develop a national land use policy that aims to protect “the best of the best" farmland from mining, president Brent Finlay says.
He said the NFF Members’ Council would meet in Canberra next week to discuss how that policy will be developed internally – either through the peak lobby group’s existing Natural Resources Committee or by setting up a special taskforce.
“Sure you can get hung up, and some people think their land is prime agricultural land or strategic cropping land, but we need to work out what the parameters are,” he said.
“How are we going to define that and what level of detail do we go into?
“Agriculture will be here for another 2000 years but extractive industries are only here for 10, 20 or 30 years and then they’re gone.”
Mr Finlay said defining what type of agricultural land should be protected from mining activity required ascertaining the most productive farmland.
He said in his view that may be irrigated farmland, land that can be double-cropped or regions where intensive agricultural industries are already established.
“That’s my opinion but again I’m looking forward to having this debate,” he said.
Mr Finlay said a balanced approach was needed for any policy and legislative changes to help resolve lingering land access issues between farming and mining.
But he stressed not everybody would be happy with the final outcomes.
He said State legislation currently allowed gas and coal companies access to farmers land but the NFF strongly supported policy changes that increased farmers’ rights to say no to mining on their land, or to receive better financial returns.
Mr Finlay said he was unsure whether the NFF would call on the services of independent Grain Producers Australia (GPA) director and experienced mining industry advocate Mitch Hooke to assist with developing the new NFF policy.
Farmers, miners should work together: Hooke
Mr Hooke is a former head of the Minerals Council of Australia and Grains Council of Australia and has extensive experience with high level policy development in both the mining and farming industries.
He told Fairfax Agricultural Media a previous proposal he put to the NFF suggesting that farmers and miners should sit down at an executive leadership level and devise a national strategic land-use planning process template, remained valid.
“That way you can get an understanding on what the respective land use values are for a region and if you do that, as a platform for exploration and subsequent mining development, the miners will have a better handle on where some of the critical farming areas are,” he said.
“Now many farmers will be out there saying, ‘well don’t they know that already’ but sometimes the miners don’t have the local knowledge that the farmers have, which is understandable.”
Mr Hooke said he didn’t like using the word coexistence to describe the relationship between mining and farming but was unsure if a better term existed.
“Coexistence almost seems to be something you do out of suffering – it’s almost as if people are drawn kicking and screaming to the table,” he said.
“But when the two communities are working together it’s amazing what sort of insight can be brought into the considerations.”
Mr Hooke said many farmers may not understand recent technology advancements in mining and therefore did not know the current scope that existed to mine with minimal disturbance to the land or “what reclamation and rehabilitation may look like”.
“There’s nothing like mutual discovery for enlightenment,” he said.
“There will be areas where there’s just an incompatibility between mining and agriculture and certainly the Liverpool Plains is a classic example of the incompatibility between agriculture and open cut mining.
“You may be able to mine underground but again that would be heavily dependent on the technology capability to do so, without causing severe and lasting environmental damage.
“And not just environmental damage; you’ve also got to take account of the social impacts of what the mining operations look like.”
Mr Hooke said an awful lot of emotion was “kicking around and understandably so” on the issue of land access and use between mining and agriculture.
But he said the best way to resolve it was via a strategic process of mutual discovery where a responsible framework for strategic land use planning was developed.
That would give both parties a “good handle” on what the land use values are, he said.
Mr Hooke said it would also help the process to devise an assessment framework on how land use values are judged and then reach a common understanding of what land needs to be preserved and protected and then managed “in a way that doesn’t have any lasting deleterious effect”.