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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Mining the LEP

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Is it time to take a very close look at our politicians in all three tiers of government, and the pecuniary interest laws which only require a declaration of interest when a politician has a greater than 10 per cent shareholding in a corporation?

About five years ago our politicians decided that each local government area should have a new Local Environmental Plan (LEP) using a standard template, as the current plans which serve us well were written some 25 years ago.

The Ballina Ratepayers Association (if you can find them) constantly complains about the environmental E2 and E3 zones in the draft Ballina LEP, but the zones to watch are RU1 and RU2.

RU1 is primary production and RU2 is rural landscape. These zones comprise our sugar cane farms, fruit farms, flower farms, tea tree farms, dairy and cattle farms. In both zones in the standard LEP template two new ‘permitted uses with consent’ appear in black print and are not allowed to be deleted by any local government authority when formulating the new LEPs. These two uses are ‘extractive industry’ and ‘open-cut mining’.

The politicians neatly side-step when asked for their views on coal seam gas extraction, or open cut coal mining, but this is the government’s greatest money-spinner and greatest export earner. The politicians need mining to balance the books.

So you decide to buy a family farm and can’t find all the money without getting a substantial loan from a friendly lending institution. When you finalised the purchase, the land title says in the first schedule that you are the legal owner, and in the second schedule it registers your mortgage. However below that is a clause that reserves the minerals below the ground for the Crown.

This is where it gets tricky. Along comes an entity holding a petroleum or minerals exploration licence and they enter your land with a drilling rig. Unless you have your farm fenced with locked gates, they have the right to enter and will pay you $200 compensation for each drill hole they make on your property.

Once they find what they are looking for, their next step is to put in a development application for the mining infrastructure on your property. But, hey, wait a minute! You’ve got a mortgage and a loan to service and you are one of the region’s best food producers!

Now remember what I said about the pecuniary interest laws. When the DA comes before Council the decision-makers do not have to declare an interest and do not have to abstain from the vote unless they hold 10 per cent of the shares. The decision-makers can make life easy for themselves but hard for you. They can become significantly richer by being silent investors in the mining industry, and you can become significantly poorer.

Your farm could be turned into a vast open cut coal mine and could end up in China. Or it could be smothered with coal seam gas wells connected by a web of roads and pipelines.

Unless we do something to stop this nonsense, the nation is not going to be fed, banks will not lend money on new purchases and the rural industries will be finished.

Margaret Howes, Empire Vale


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