FARMLAND bordering the Murray River east of Albury may be protected from coal seam gas mining under plans unveiled by the NSW government yesterday.
Strips of land along the river from Talmalmo and Jingellic were among 2.8 million hectares that would be subject to a “gateway” process that was announced by NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard.
The gateway process is described as “an independent, scientific and upfront assessment of the impact of state significant mining and coal seam gas proposals on strategic agricultural land and its associated water resources”.
NSW plans to introduce the toughest coal seam gas controls in Australia by extending the two-kilometre buffer around residential zones to future growth areas in 56 council areas.
“This is the first time in the state’s history that there has been such extensive mapping and protection of our homes and farms,” Mr Hazzard said.
But Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham argued the process still allowed mining on prime agricultural land and there were many environments where it would not apply.
Greater Hume, Tumbarumba and Wagga council areas are affected by the decision, but Corowa Shire, which has been subject to coal seam gas bids, has not been mapped.
Corowa Council’s environmental services director Bob Parr said the protection council sought for farmers and residents was “not there”.
“We are the food basket of Australia and have some of the most valuable food land in the state,” he said.
Mr Parr said the concept was a good one but he had no answers on when the Corowa region would be mapped.
“The two-kilometre buffer around residential zones is good, but there’s nothing to say they can’t start right on that two-kilometre line,” he said.
The NSW Farmers Association said the gateway process did not rule agricultural land “off-limits”, creating uncertainty.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said the government had struck the right note.
“Today we have both farmers and miners criticising the government’s moves,” Mr O’Farrell said.
“It sounds as though we’ve achieved the balance we want and no system’s ever perfect.”