Lock The Gate campaign, Gasland Movie, Land Access Agreements, Forests and Court

29th November 2010
PROPERTY RIGHTS AUSTRALIA

Sunday, 28th November.

At the time of writing Sunday 28th, there is a chance another state Labor government has fallen in Victoria.

Meanwhile, in Qld, we have had the most extraordinary ten days in politics. With the threat of radical action by farmers in the coal seam gas areas letters to the editor were published in Qld country Life from Directors General of every relevant department indicating a high level of government concern.

On Saturday I attended a funeral at Wandoan where I lived for 35 years.  All the talk was mining intrusion.  On Monday I attended the successful launching of the Lock the Gates Campaign in front of Parliament House.  This received favourable coverage on the ABC and in the Courier Mail and hopefully other outlets.  Representatives of farmer groups gave an overview of the harmful effects in their areas and the reasons for locking gates as a last ditch stand: a virtual landowners’ strike, all other avenues having been tried without success.  Vice-chairman, Lee Mc Nicholl capably represented the Dulacca group.

Public Forum

The ACF (Australian Conservation Foundation) public forum on Monday night was sponsored by seven green groups, the University of Qld and Agforce to consider the environmental implications of coal seam gas projects. It attracted a capacity audience of 300.The speakers list grew to at least twelve with most speakers extremely critical of the proposed projects.

James Nason has given an excellent coverage in this week’s QCL.

I would add though, that the highlight for me was not only the quality and articulate delivery of the farmers’ power point presentations but also solicitor and farmer, Peter Shannon’s summing up.

In a highly charged delivery which seemed to indicate a long build-up of frustration he flayed politicians and ex-politicians from both sides of politics for having identifiable compromising commercial interests in gas companies. While not directly endorsing radical action he stated he understood the reasons for a landowner imposed moratorium which government had refused to grant. While all the farmers’ presentations were good, I had no idea coal seam gas extraction and open cut mines are proposed for the Jimbour flood plain.

This borders on insanity.

It has taken 50 years to help farmers to modify their practices to recognise the fragility of these plains that could be permanently damaged in one fell stroke by mining. The front page of this week’s QCL caption Anna’s Plan: Get Rid of Farmers is backed by a barrister’s terse summary of the evening’s event, “Agriculture out, mining in.”

900,000 ha of the black soil downs and flood plains have been measured at no more than 0.3% slope, not 3%, just 0.3%, mostly 0.25% or around Brigalow none whatever. Water originating from creeks flowing out of the Bunyas makes its way overland, losing discrete channels on the almost level flood plains. Any infrastructure misdirecting overland flow is dangerous. All weather road connections between established gas wells to take account of this will modify the landscape irreparably.

The inter aquifer transfer of water in the Condamine alluvium is judged as certain.

Gasland movie

I saw the Gasland film while in Brisbane. This horrifying film which documents shale seam gas extraction in USA should be viewed ideally with technical advice as to the differences of our situations. The terrifying similarity is the dissembling of politicians and corporates when challenged, burdening the onus of proof of damage, tying complainants up in expensive action in the courts, while continuing operations and downplaying or professing no knowledge of its deleterious effects. The obvious differences are dangerous contaminants in leaking methane and chemicals used in fraccing shale oil beds up to three times in the one well. It is difficult to judge without intimate knowledge how much hype is in this film but caution is warranted.

Land Access Agreements

The government is convening meetings of affected landowners throughout the state to explain proposed legislation for access and compensation agreements. Apparently the arrogant attitude of the presenter at Dalby caused a walkout at half time and the Roma meeting was hostile with the same presenter.

A packed meeting in Emerald on Wednesday which I attended was run by a presenter who stated empathy for the farmer’s plight at the outset. There were still a lot of angry and disillusioned farmers in the room with a representative of local government making the very strong point that regional councils get no compensation for the destruction of local roads by heavy mining traffic in all weathers.

A lawyer present who is involved in compensation negotiations made the very good point that it is really in the company’s interests to stay out of Land Courts as levels of compensation settlements then become public and can be used as escalating benchmarks. However, after giving sufficient notice, companies can enter your land, proceed with development with no limitation to how close activities can be to vital infrastructure, including your residence, while engaging you in court proceedings.

One of the negotiating parties on the Land Access and Compensation Bill appealed to the Premier to have the interim period doubled until the Bill applies. This is now set at July 2011. We can anticipate elevated activity in attempts to tie up resources between now and then.

In the above summary I have endeavoured to cover some of the issues not featured in the fairly extensive media coverage this controversy has generated.

This issue as it affects property rights and diminution of landowner’s equity has the potential to be a much greater than the Veg Management Debacle.

As is evidenced by Jeff Seeney’s contribution to this debate as recorded in Hansard there is apparent division in the opposition in Qld.

A positive note?

Santos has been quite amicably producing gas from the Cooper Basin for fifteen years. Extensive grazing areas with little dire impact on amenity has led to happy coexistence. Any change of impacts and extraordinary developments are assessed every two years and suitable compensation negotiated.

Member for Callide, Jeff Seeney, rightly claims amicable arrangements in his electorate. These conditions don’t apply on the 900,000 ha of intensively farmed Darling Downs country and if iconic farming country is to mean anything, this area has to be preserved for posterity.

The appalling devastation in the once beautiful Hunter Valley stands testament to rapacious mining activity condoned by governments.

The Director General actually suggested at the UQ forum that, when a property in a mining tenement can be advertised for sale with an attractive level of yearly compensation for working wells, attracting a premium, we will have reached a satisfactory resolution.

In this idealistic situation we would also have Governments not relenting in granting access until this position was realised. If only the record of Santos could be replicated.

Acknowledging the pressure, the Premier has set up an expert advisory panel and offered more facilitation funds to Agforward.

The personnel on this panel will attract intense scrutiny and Agforce will have to decide whether Agforward’s already suspect status can stand another round of government funding.

PRA will be establishing an independent reference panel.

Forests

Of great concern to landowners is the locking up of state forest and forestry leases from grazing for National Parks, creating hugely destructive fire potential. There is also the suspicion that in a tradeoff with the Greens, mining will be allowed. This move will disadvantage a grazier’s viability immensely.

Court

At the time of the moratorium last year a landowner in CQ was charged with a clearing offense and pleaded guilty with mitigating circumstances. He has now been fined $110, 000. In his sentencing remarks the magistrate did not accept any mitigating circumstances and gave his reasons. We are now getting a transcript to check the actual text to see whether Joanne and I heard correctly.

Never have more issues been intruding on landowners’ livelihoods.

Regards

Ron Bahnisch

Ron Bahnisch, Chairman

Property Rights Australia

STAND YOUR GROUND

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