November 1, 2011
Independent MP Tony Windsor is threatening to derail the Government’s mining tax unless it clamps down on coal seam gas exploration and provides millions of dollars for research into the environmental effects of coal seam gas drilling.
The Government needs the support of Mr Windsor and fellow independent Rob Oakeshott, who is also said to be wavering on the tax, to secure the numbers to get the measure through Parliament.
But Prime Minister Julia Gillard says while she will discuss Mr Windsor’s concerns with him, coal seam gas is “predominantly a state government matter”.
Mr Windsor says he has “had enough” of the tactics of coal seam gas companies which are exploring large areas of prime arable land in Queensland and New South Wales.
He says he does not trust assurances by the companies that mining will not affect the water table or destroy arable land.
Mr Windsor told AM the issue had been brought to a head by the activity of mining giant Santos on the Liverpool plains in northern NSW.
He said Santos part funded the environmental study that gave it the all-clear to drill.
“I’ve made it clear to the Government that this sort of nonsense from some of these companies has gone on long enough,” Mr Windsor said.
He said he wanted up to $400 million to be allocated each year from the mining tax revenue to fund bio-regional assessments to scientifically assess the impact of mining on aquifers, flood plains, native vegetation, farmland and native species.
“It would look at all the spatial landscape issues from landform, soil productivity, vegetation management, threatened species, other environmental issues, including groundwater, and surface water, and how the cumulative effects of some of these industries would impact downstream on others who are nowhere near the mining or gas activity.”
He is also demanding the Commonwealth legislate powers to give itself final approval of mining projects, effectively overriding the states.
Greens MP Adam Bandt says Mr Windsor has his party’s support and the Greens have a bill in the Senate designed to tighten environmental controls.
And he says while the Greens will try to amend the mining tax bill to include gold miners, they will support the tax even if the amendments are defeated.
“We are not in the business of blocking this mining tax but we do respect the right of others to bring to the table issues they want considered,” Mr Bandt told reporters.
It seems unlikely Mr Windsor’s demands will find support from the Government.
Ms Gillard says she is aware of the controversial coal seam gas projects mooted for Mr Windsor’s New England electorate, but says land use is not a Commonwealth matter.
“Predominantly this is a state government matter, to manage land use and resources, but of course we will discuss Tony Windsor’s concerns with him,” Ms Gillard told ABC local radio.
Mr Windsor is concerned about a dispute on a property near Spring Ridge, in northern NSW, where farmers are trying to stop Santos sinking exploratory boreholes.
A previous dispute lasted six months and Mr Windsor said people should not have to go through it again.