Lock the Gate Alliance (LTG) has called for proposed changes to coal seam gas laws foreshadowed in NSW parliament this week to be released immediately on public exhibition.
On Tuesday, minister Duncan Gay revealed that changes have been proposed to the contentious Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment Bill 2013 as a result of what LTG describes as ‘secretive negotiations with selected stakeholders by the NSW land and water commissioner, Jock Laurie’. The changes will be introduced as government amendments to the Bill.
However, the changes have not been released for public comment and the government has delayed a vote on the changes until March next year, after community opposition escalated over the last week.
An associated Land Access Code of Practice has been released and placed on public exhibition for four weeks.
‘We’re pleased that community opposition over the last week has led the government to adjourn a vote on this Bill until March next year,’ said Phil Laird, national co-ordinator with Lock the Gate Alliance.
‘However, given the secrecy surrounding the process led by land and water commissioner Jock Laurie, we are calling for the changes to be released in full immediately and for the government to institute a formal public exhibition and submission process before it is debated in Parliament.
‘We’re disappointed that Premier O’Farrell agreed to re-introduce this controversial bill without achieving the “broad consensus” he promised earlier in the year and without any public process.
‘Communities across NSW will be gobsmacked that this Bill has missed the opportunity to provide farmers with a broad legal right to say “no” to coal seam gas mining on their properties.
‘The proposed bill also contains a number of gaping flaws that take regulation of coal seam gas in NSW backwards.
The bill will undermine the rights of landowners, including local councils, from preventing seismic surveys along roads near residential dwellings and on improved land.
‘The bill will also allow coal seam gas companies to enter farms without the consent of landholders to conduct surveys in order to obtain environmental approvals.
‘We thoroughly reject minister Duncan Gay’s claims in Parliament that this Bill is “a win for landholders” and we will be calling on members of the upper house to vote against the bill unless its many failings have been addressed,’ he said.
Public interest test
The Greens meanwhile have welcomed government legislation to insert a ‘public interest test’ into the mining and petroleum acts to enhance the power of the minister to cancel or not renew a mining or petroleum licence.
But NSW Greens mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham says it should have happened earlier.
‘The current acts grant the minister a lot of power to grant licences, but lacks substantial powers to undo mistakes or inappropriate grants of licences – so this new and broad public-interest test is a very welcome reform,’ he said.
‘The Greens have called for a review of other licences granted by the former Labor government, and particularly former ministers Obeid and Macdonald,’ he added.
‘It is a pity that the public interest did not seem to be a factor when resources minister Chris Hartcher renewed 22 petroleum licences in September 2012. The almost automatic renewal of licences deeply disturbed many communities, who believed the initial grant by Labor was inappropriate,’ said Mr Buckingham.