CSG land access talks slammed for being “restrictive”

NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham has expressed concerns that only a select number of interest groups have been invited to talks aimed at granting property access to CSG exploration companies.

NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham has expressed concerns that only a select number of interest groups have been invited to talks aimed at granting property access to CSG exploration companies.

The New South Wales Irrigator’s Council has confirmed it is part of discussions being held in Sydney that aims to broker talks with the CSG sector.

Irrigators' CEO, Andrew Gregson, denied the meetings were being held in secret, ABC reported.

He said discussions centred around finding common ground between the coal seam gas industry and landholders impacted by exploration activities.

"We were tasked with putting together a Code of Practice for access agreements and working down to a great level of detail," Gregson said.

"As part of that we also looked at some necessary amendments to the Petroleum Onshore Act which would implement that Code as minimum terms for access agreements and that will be handed over to the government and they'll go through their standard consultation regime."

Other groups invited to attend on behalf of their members included he NSW Farmers' Association, Cotton Australia, thoroughbred breeders and vignerons.

Land and Water Commissioner, Jock Laurie, is brokering the discussions.

However Buckingham says that more people should have been invited to have their say.

"These organisations, who are well within their right to negotiate and represent themselves are, in actual fact, negotiating on behalf of all landholders and all communities in NSW," he said.

"If they sign up, that effectively gives the coal seam gas industry and the government a social licence to operate in NSW.

"There should have been more participants in it and there certainly wasn't representations to the environment movement.”

Buckingham also accused the talks for having a lack of transparency.

"Jock Laurie should be under no illusion he might [think he's] Neville Chamberlain getting off the plane saying, 'Peace in our time,'" he said.

"But for that to occur he has to include the broad NSW community; all those people who are concerned about CSG and land access arrangements and, from my understanding, that hasn't occurred.

"It's well and good to negotiate around codes of practice but we need to get the fundamentals right and to have broad community support we need broad community participation."

Unlike the US where landowners own most of the above ground and below surface rights on their properties, states in Australia own the mineral resources leaving farmers to broker deals with gas companies who wish to access their land.

However, some farmers argue they are not afforded an equal place at the negotiating table, with the issue becoming a nation-wide problem.

Ducklo farmer Veronica Laffy said the process was unfair on families, The Australian reported.

"If I say to the gas company I don't agree to what you've offered, you can't come on my land, they can take me to land court, lodge their application with the land court and still come on my property – legally, I can't stop them,” she told The Australian.

And with QGC knocking on the famer’s door, Laffey says the family is prepared to blockade their property the need arises.

"We've gone through the process and now we are at the end of the line. The next step for them is to take us to court and once they do that, they can access our property, whether they have a plan around our organics or our kids, that's the legislation," Laffy said.

"We don't want them to come on our land and the scenario for us is if they insist to come on, we will need to blockade our farm or stand in front of a gate and potentially be arrested."

New federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane says he will tour NSW shortly to meet farmers and convince them coal mining, CSG and agriculture can coexist in the state, saying it already does so in Queensland.

He said 4,000 farmers have gained economically and socially by signing access deals with CSG and other mining companies in Queensland.

Macfarlane said the debate around CSG and proposed mining operations should centre around science.

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