The Queensland Government has allowed a foreign gas company to destroy some of the best brigalow farming and grazing country in the State
STRATEGIC Cropping Land status has been removed from 90 per cent of the land in the Bellevue area north of Wandoan.
The state government last week approved the application by coal seam gas company QGC to have the status removed from more than 25,000ha, out of a total 29,680ha applied for, on the basis that it fails the slope criteria.
In doing so, only four parcels of land out of 121 affected were ground-truthed, a level of rigour that Roma solicitor Tom Marland said provided “little hope” to anyone else that their land would be protected.
The application was made just before the new Regional Planning Interests Act, with supposedly more stringent conditions, came into force.
“The old SCL has now been repealed and replaced,” Mr Marland said.
“However, if this is the level of rigour the DNRM and the government are applying to the assessment process, there is little hope that future applications, even under the new codes, will be denied.”
Mr Marland said that another concerning aspect of the government ruling was that it considered QGC’s parent company, BG International (Aus) Pty Ltd, to be an owner of the land it applied to have SCL status removed from.
Under the definition in schedule 2 of the SCL Act, holding resource authorities makes the company an “owner” of the land and therefore an eligible person under section 41, and entitled to make a validation application, according to the DNRM decision notice given to landholders last week.
It’s a development that Property Rights Australia (PRA) president Dale Stiller also finds deeply concerning.
“Farming and grazing landholders could only be surprised that even though they are the registered owner of a property, having purchased it or as generational farming families, that QGC could be considered the owner,” he said.
“It is QGC which is seeking to remove the SCL status that provides the landholder a benefit in regards to negotiations with the coal seam gas company; therefore it can be viewed as a property right.
“This section of the now repealed SCL Act indicates how deeply flawed it was and the degree that Wandoan landholders have lost out from over generous transitional arrangements awarded to resource companies in the changeover to the Regional Planning Interests Act.”
The limited amount of ground-truthing done is also of great concern to Mr Stiller.
According to DNRM guidelines, “while desktop assessment using methodologies such as a Digital Elevation Model may be used in assessing slope, (it) should only be used prior to field assessment to identify likely areas where land may fail this criterion”.
The guidelines further state that these methods will generally need to be validated by field measurement.
“It is greatly unfair to the individual landholder who does not have their individual parcel of land ground-truthed,” Mr Stiller said.
“It appears the department has followed QGC’s outlook of viewing the entire Bellevue area as a single entity and that some random sampling would suffice.
“It is not good enough as each landholder has invested, worked, resides and has plans for the future for their property and likely to suffer a diminution of value from the loss of SCL status.”
PRA also called on Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney to remove the discrimination on the slope criteria for SCL assessment where the western cropping areas can only have below 3 per cent slope while the rest of the state is set at 5 per cent.
Landholders now have 28 days to appeal the decision, or until January 2, 2015.
“I am not sure many would have the funds or the time to lodge an objection,” Mr Marland said.
In response to questions from Queensland Country Life, Mr Seeney confirmed that the Wandoan land was assessed under criteria set under the old Strategic Cropping Land Act.
He said SCL was now administered under the new Regional Planning Interests Act and the cropping test had been removed.
“If this proposal were being assessed under the new act, it’s possible that a significant proportion of this country would have been subject to our new laws,” he said.
“I only wish that the LNP had been in government a decade ago so we could have introduced our new laws earlier.
“I urge landholders in the area to negotiate strongly with the company to achieve the best possible conduct and compensation agreement.
“No resource activity can begin on their property until a CCA is reached.”