Queensland is rich in agricultural, mineral and fuel resources. At times, this creates coexistence challenges for the agriculture sector and the gas industry to manage the interaction between these critical industries. To assist with this ongoing relationship, the Queensland Audit Office has recommended the GasFields Commission Queensland review the coal seam gas (CSG) assessment process identified under the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (RPI Act). The review will determine whether the process adequately manages CSG activities in areas of regional interest, the land classifications provided by the legislation are consistent and adequate exemptions are available in the assessment process.
In Queensland, we continue to see the permanent loss of the best farmland from industrial uses, urban sprawl, services, utilities, and mining. And many farmers are rightly concerned the RPI Act in its current form does not provide the level of certainty and strength of protection that is needed to ensure remaining areas of good quality agricultural land are protected from inappropriate development.
The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has welcomed the GasFields Commission’s review and is serious about developing a state-based approach to properly address planning and better protect Queensland’s prime agricultural land. The current state planning framework has become convoluted and unnecessarily complicated, particularly where agriculture is concerned. QFF wants to see strict, clear, non-discretionary prohibitions on inappropriate activities in key areas of regional interest; that proponents of proposed projects in areas of regional interest obtain a regional impact development approval before applying to obtain other major approvals; the removal of uncertainty, including around public notification; and the introduction of meaningful public consultation processes and third-party appeal rights to increase transparency.
While the scope of the current review is narrow, consistent and meaningful planning outcomes for agriculture are necessary to ensure the best agricultural land remains available for food, fibre, foliage production. With an increase in mining and gas activity in recent years, and demands on agriculture increasing, vigilance is needed to ensure agriculture land is treated as the precious and irreplaceable commodity that it is as major resources projects are considered, approved and developed. We must stop taking our best production lands and the produce they grow for granted.