THE head of Queensland’s biggest mining industry representative body has met face-to-face with concerned Central Highlands farmers who fear for the protection of their land amidst the current resources boom.
Queensland Resource Council chief executive Michael Roche, who represents every producing coal mine in the state, spent the past two days touring properties in the Golden Triangle, south of Emerald, in what he called “a long overdue step to engage with concerned farmers in person”.
At the top of his list were farmers’ uncertainties over the State Government’s recently announced, and long-awaited, draft criteria for judging Strategic Cropping Land. Terrain that passes the test and is deemed to be among the best quality cropping land in the state will effectively be protected from mining.
With mining exploration permits for two major coal projects overlapping much of the Golden Triangle cropping land, concern and fear of what was to come was rife among farmers in the area.
Mr Roche spent a “casual lunch” on Arcturus Downs discussing the concerns of landholders with 12 affected farming families.
Much of the talk was in relation to the two coal exploration permits controlled by Bandanna Energy in the area.
“I met a number of people whose property overlaps the exploration areas,” he said.
“Basically we wanted to sit down and get a better understanding of their farm and their concerns with the project - how they feel it might impact them.
“At the same time, the company is trying to get on with developing the projects. They see a market opportunity to sell coal to our coal-hungry overseas customers. So I think for both sides the sooner a resolution the better.”
Mr Roche said the trip was a learning curve aimed at building trust, building dialogue, and gaining a better understanding of the other perspective.
“Both mining companies and farmers are equally uncertain of how this is going to pan out,” Mr Roche said.
“From a QRC perspective, we want to ensure that any policy is based on good science.”
“It is important to determine whether a project sitting on the trigger maps is actually sitting on the best of the best cropping land.”
Mr Roche admitted that based on the advice given to the QRC, the science to regenerate the best cropping land after digging, needs more work. He said the QRC is conducting its own scientific investigation that it will later provide to government.
Queensland Future Food’s Charlie Wilson accompanied Mr Roche on his tour of the area.
“We challenged the mining industry at the State of the Industry Forum to come out here and see where farmers were coming from,” Mr Wilson said.
“We wanted them to learn and be responsive to our concerns.
“To have the calibre of Michael come out is a success, and I think he came away with a better understanding of where we are coming from.
“It is a terrible time for many of us because we are very unsure about the future.”
Mr Wilson said landholders attempted to get Mr Roche to sign off on a code of conduct that the “big players” need to abide by when dealing with landholders. He said Mr Roche agreed to meet with AgForce and the Queensland Farmer’s Federation.
Mr Roche admitted that the behaviour of some mining companies could be much better when dealing with the communities they impacted.
“Some are very good with community relationships and don’t need to be told what to do by some new law or regulation. But I accept that my industry gets judged by the worst performer, so we need to lift the standard across the board in terms of dialogue, respect and being prepared to sit down and understand how a mining or gas project might impact a farmer’s business,” he said.
Mr Roche said the QRC would like to see more work done on the eight SCL draft criteria, and expressed concern for $22 billion worth of projects that stand to be affected under the current model.
“Some of these projects have spent hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
“We have asked the government to consider the projects that have already made substantial investments operate under different rules.
“They need to take into account that they are changing the rules mid-stream.”
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