Landmark policy to protect crops

FARMERS in the Golden Triangle, Rolleston, Comet and Emerald areas designated strategic cropping land in maps released by the State Government today, will be protected from mining and other development.

"Oh my God," was the stunned reaction from one Orion farmer who faced the prospect of a coal mine in the back paddock.

"You started to feel a little bit, after two years dedicated to the fight, like you were getting nowhere.

"This is unbelievable."

Environment and Resource Management Minister Kate Jones was equally jubilant at announcing the Australia-first policy that will protect the Central Highlands’ vital food bowls.

"We’re making the legislation retrospective so from the date of announcement (today) is when the legislation will apply," Ms Jones said.

"We will review it in two years to see how it’s going only for the intention to see if areas that should be included are there and its effectiveness."

Much of southern Queensland has also been included in the maps.

The move means 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 to parliament later this year.

A spokesperson for Ms Jones said the policy would not prevent underground mining if it could be proved it would not permanently alienate the land.

Existing mines with expansion plans over contiguous permits will have to lodge applications for mining leases by August, 2012.

"Through this policy, we are protecting our important food bowls across the state," Ms Jones said.

"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 areas 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 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;
  • 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;
  • 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 Queensland Government will soon release a Draft State Planning Policy to ensure development approvals, planning schemes and regional plans include appropriate consideration of strategic cropping land.

Ms Jones said Queensland’s cropping land would be protected more than ever before. 

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