In a decade’s time, the Queensland centre of Dalby will be unrecognisable as a farming community, according to Darling Downs lawyer Peter Shannon.
Mr Shannon, Shine Lawyers, who hails from Dalby, said the mining industry was taking over the district at such a rate that the scale of agriculture the regions are known for may not survive the next 10 years.
One of the only benefits to be had from this was that NSW producers could hopefully learn from what has happened to Queensland to prevent coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mining taking over their prime agricultural land.
“It’s an inevitability that wherever there is coal in NSW, there is also good farming land,” said Mr Shannon, who was in Moree last week to talk to growers at the Australian Cotton Trade Show.
“The mining industry will eventually take over agriculture if the agricultural industry doesn’t look after itself, and it’s up to the landholders themselves to make sure their industry is looked after.
“Unfortunately you get more consumer protection buying a fridge in Queensland than you do when entering an agreement with a mining company and if the legal fees available to landholders are capped then it will be impossible for those landholders to have a fair fight.
“Mining is something that’s usually remote to everyone until it’s knocking on their door and while the law states that a landholder is not allowed to be worse off after signing an agreement with a mining company, you can promise the landholder won’t be better off, while the mining company and government are making fortunes.”
Fellow Shine solicitor Glen Martin said while he and Mr Shannon were not experts in the situation in NSW, they would soon be increasing their workload in NSW, adding the regimes in the two States were very similar and so NSW landholders could expect much the same as their northern counterparts.
“I can’t stress enough that landholders need to be well-prepared before the mining company even turns up at their gates,” Mr Martin said.
“It’s too late once you’ve been approached, but if a representative of a mining company does turn up, make sure you listen to what they’re saying and ask as many questions as possible.
“It sounds simple but landholders shouldn’t sign anything before getting legal advice – the majority of landholders will have no idea what they’re signing.
“If the document hasn’t been pre-pared by the landholder it’s unlikely it will benefit the landholder.”
Still on shaky ground was the effect mining projects had on land values – shaky, Mr Shannon said, because it was difficult to assess when land values began to be affected by any work being conducted on the property.
“The effect of mining on land values is still in its infancy even in Queensland, but I imagine we’ll start to see more of an effect on land prices within the next five years,” he said.
Cotton Australia mining and CSG policy officer Sahil Prasad said one of the key changes proposed in the review of the NSW Planning system was the need for developments to be “sustainable” rather than “ecologically sustainable” – a move he said which “essentially negates the right to protect the environment and the important agricultural land arou-nd a mining project”.
“Submissions for the review of the system are due on June 28 and I strongly suggest landholders take a good look at this and make sure it’s going to work for them.”