The Coalition New South Wales government released its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy on September 11. The public was told the policy would protect land and water from the impacts of mining and coal seam gas (CSG) development.
Instead it is a policy to develop CSG and mineral mining in the state — despite well-evidenced risks and enormous community opposition — and breaks a slew of promises made to the people of NSW.
Before last year's NSW election, then-opposition leader Barry O'Farrell promised to ban exploration and mining in drinking water catchments. He said: “The next Liberal/National government will ensure that mining cannot occur … in any water catchment area, and will ensure that mining leases and mining exploration permits reflect that common sense; no ifs, no buts, a guarantee.”
In a December 1 interview O’Farrell, then the premier, also told 2GB’s Alan Jones: “I don’t intend to allow — particularly after the drought we went through over a decade — mining or any other activity to threaten water resources ... [CSG] exploration licences have been granted, in some cases permission to mine has been granted, in areas, frankly, that should never ever have been on the list.”
The Coalition also promised to rule out mining in sensitive areas, to “provide certainty to local communities that cumulative impacts are being taken into account", weigh the environmental, social and economic impacts of development, and require aquifer interference approval.
The new rules show that these promises were quite clearly lies. Under the policy:
• No part of NSW — not the land where food is grown, not drinking water catchments — is off limits to mining and exploration.
• The test for aquifer interference has been downgraded to have no legal standing. Rather than requiring aquifer interference approval, the new rules offer an evaluation of the potential impacts on ground water systems “to be considered”.
• A cost-benefit analysis and public interest test are not required.
On the same day, the government also took further steps to pursue CSG development in the state. It lifted the freeze on fracking, which involves blasting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to fracture underground systems.
It also offered to renew 22 CSG exploration licences in NSW across 5 million hectares, including drinking water catchment areas. A new CSG production licence was also granted in Casino.
Dressed up in words like “protection” these rules and changes are nothing short of betrayal.
Communities have made it clear that science must come before development, and that land and water must be kept safe. The government's announcements make it clear that the campaign to protect land, water and the environment must continue and grow. Communities must protect what the government has not.