In an Australian first, the Queensland government has introduced policy to protect cropping land in two key regions from mining and other development.
Environment and Resource Management Minister Kate Jones today released final maps and announced that much of southern Queensland, as well as the Emerald and Springsure region, will be granted the highest level of protection as Strategic Cropping Land Protection Areas.
From today, resource development projects, such as mining, that are not well advanced in the approvals process will be subject to the full effect of the legislation to be introduced later this year.
“We are leading the nation in policy that safeguards our best cropping land – other states are now following suit,” Ms Jones said.
“Through this policy, we are protecting our important food bowls across the state.
“We gave a commitment to rural Queensland, particularly communities of the Surat Basin, that we would introduce a policy that would deal with the increasing land use competition in their area.
“Today our government makes good on that commitment.
“From today, new mining projects that will permanently render strategic cropping land unusable in the Protection Areas will not be able to go ahead.”
The new regulations are similar to those recently introduced in New South Wales which banned all new coal and coal seam gas projects in the state.
Under the moratorium, new projects in NSW are more thoroughly investigated and publicised through public consultation that aims to find a balance between farming and agriculture and mining.
Jones said the Queensland Protection Areas, in Southern Queensland and the Emerald-Springsure region, have been defined as they are under intense and imminent development pressure.
The Southern Queensland Protection Area will give soils in the Darling Downs, the Granite Belt, the Lockyer and Fassifern Valleys and the South Burnett region the highest level of protection from mining, urban development and other permanent, high impact projects.
Outside these Protection Areas, defined as the Strategic Cropping Land Management Area, projects will need to avoid permanently rendering cropping land unusable and mitigate any unavoidable impacts.
Other key components of the Strategic Cropping Land policy framework include a trigger map covering much of the eastern side of Queensland up to the north of Cairns that will be used to indicate where strategic cropping land is most likely to exist.
Proponents will need to undertake an on-ground assessment, against eight scientific criteria, to determine whether a site is in fact Strategic Cropping Land;
Similarly to the new regulations in NSW, land assessments for cropping land will be an open and transparent process with the community able to comment and provide any evidence as part of the assessment process.
Proponents will incur the costs of on-ground assessments.
The Management Area will include all land covered by the trigger map, outside the Protection Areas, though allowances will be made for proposed mining projects that are already well advanced and have met certain milestones in the assessment process.
These ‘transitional projects’ may be allowed to proceed on strategic cropping land, but those without final environmental approvals will still be required to avoid, minimise and mitigate any impact on Strategic Cropping Land.
The Bligh government will be releasing a Draft State Planning Policy shortly, to ensure development approvals, planning schemes and regional plans include appropriate consideration of strategic cropping land.
Jones said the introduction of the policy today will provide necessary protection for Queensland cropping land.
“We reached a significant milestone in April with the release of the proposed criteria to identify strategic cropping land and today we put the framework into action,” she said.
“The State Government is making its intentions clear: proponents must consider their impacts on strategic cropping land, it should prompt many to redesign their projects so they can co-exist with farming land.
“Allowances will also be made for the limited number of projects that can demonstrate exceptional circumstances such as where a resource cannot be found anywhere else in the State.”
The minister also released a Regulatory Assessment Statement on the strategic cropping land framework for public consultation.
“The Queensland Government recognises there will be cost implications for businesses and government to implement the policy,” she said.
“For this reason, we are once again consulting to ensure people have every opportunity to comment on how we are striking the balance between development and protecting the state’s important cropping land.
“The Regulatory Assessment Statement assesses the cost recovery options and recommends that development proponents incur the costs and the fees associated with the land assessment process, if they wish to seek approval to locate their development on strategic cropping land.”
People have 28 days to provide feedback on the Regulatory Assessment Statement.
Jones said the release of the draft State Planning Policy for public consultation will be the next step towards implementing the policy.
Details of today’s policy announcement, including maps, can be found on the DERM website at www.derm.qld.gov.au.
Image: Toowoomba Chronicle