The Coalition plans to halt all new mine and gas exploration licenses for up to a year if elected next month.
The initial stop on licenses will then be dependant on further study into competing land use between agricultural land, which it says is a finite resource and must be conserved for food security.
A state Liberal government would dramatically overhaul the way contested land is handled by implementing tighter environmental control of proposed mines and gas fields and more actively monitoring water resources.
The changes would focus particularly on parts of New South Wales where several mine sites have been proposed, including the controversial Hunter and Upper Hunter area, where anti-mining activists have been vocal in their opposition to new projects.
Coalmines and gas exploration projects are also in the pipeline in the Bylong Valley, near Mudgee and Running Stream, north-west of Lithgow.
Farmers and residents have been opposing these projects for fear of the impact mining could have on water aquifers on their prime agricultural land.
Opposition primary industry and energy spokesman, Duncan Gay said the new policies are a step in the right direction.
“It’s the first major overhaul in a couple of decades,” he said.
“All sides accept it needs to happen. It provides proper processes to avoid politics affecting policy outcomes.”
“The policy will apply to all new exploration licenses [EL’s] and existing EL’s not yet at the development application stage.
“The transition period will be tough … but it provides a pause for the government to develop the strategic regional plans needed to underpin the policy.”
An “agricultural impact assessment” and more comprehensive monitoring of aquifers would be part of the new assessment system, mostly where multiple mines or gas projects have been proposed for any new exploration or mining projects.
The priorities of land use would be assessed in a region before an exploration license was granted.
It would examine the environmental, social and economic value of the land to be protected, and Gay said finding the best use for land with proper investigation “will provide certainty to local communities that cumulative [development] impacts are being taken into account … about how close mining will come to their towns and what effect that proximity will have.”
Last month, the NSW Minerals Council defended accusations from The Sydney Morning Herald that it had pressured the Coalition into changing policy guidelines to favour the mining industry.
It said the Minerals Council had worked in conjunction with the Farmers Association and the Opposition on countless draft policies, to find a balance between the mining and agriculture.
Yesterday, Gay again defended the consultation with industry groups.
“To develop policy in isolation is not realistic,” he told the Herald yesterday.
“I’ve never apologised for the fact that I’ve talked to major interest groups.”
The Coalition came under fire recently for supposedly allowing lobby groups such as the Minerals Council to dictate its policy in this area, but Mr Gay said yesterday that
”This [policy] isn’t a silver bullet … but the big problem of exploration licences, to delineate what mining and exploration could and should happen, and when it shouldn’t, that provides assurances for all parts of the community.”
The involvement of opposing industries in the development of state policies on mining has been welcomed by the NSW Minerals Council.