Landowners and legal professionals were provided with a guide through the legal labyrinth of mining and coal seam gas (CSG) law at a seminar in Mudgee on Saturday.
Organised by the not-for-profit group Brothers and Sisters In Law, the seminar was intended to inform solicitors about the legislation governing coal mining and CSG extraction, but also attracted farmers, residents and representatives of action groups from the Southern Highlands, Hunter Valley, Liverpool Plains and the Mudgee region.
Speakers included Sue Higginson, principal solicitor from EDO NSW (formerly the Environmental Defenders Office), OzEnvironmental Pty Ltd managing director Warwick Giblin, who advises councils on negotiations with mining companies, and the NSW Farmers Association mining and coal seam gas officer Jess Harwood
Ms Higginson took listeners through recent case studies, including the community of Bulga’s fight to stop expansion of Rio Tinto’s Mt Thorley Warkworth coal mine, currently the subject of a Supreme Court appeal, and explained the complexities of access agreements and landholders’ responsibilities.
Ms Harwood said a recent NSW Farmers’ Association survey had found that only 41.7 per cent of landowners believed they were equipped to handle negotiations over land access agreements.
Sixty-seven per cent of respondents said they did not believe nor understood the process of negotiating access agreements with coal seam gas or mining companies and 28.8 per cent did not know that an access agreement was required before companies could begin exploration activity on a property.
“If not told of the right to legal assistance, they have to do it on their own, and that’s quite a daunting process,” she said.
“Landholders have the right to legal advice paid for by the mining company and should engage a lawyer.”
“A staggering amount of people who come to [NFA] workshops have no idea about their rights and sign contracts provided by the mining companies or rely on oral contracts.”
Ms Harwood said with mineral and petrol exploration leases covering 73 per cent of the state, and farmers managing approximately 73 per cent of the state’s land, there was great potential for land use conflict.
The NSW Farmers Association has held workshops on access agreements in 18 mining “hotspots” around the state and has also established a hotline to advise landholders.
Seminar convenor Ian Coleman said the response to the seminar from the community showed there was a need among rural landholders for information on mining and coal seam gas law.
He said although the seminar was aimed at the legal fraternity, it had brought together diverse community groups and he hoped it would encourage further networking.
“But for a handful of people who are working on behalf of their communities, there would be no community representation at all,” he said.
“It’s not a great exaggeration to say that the future of the land is in the hands of the producers of food and fibre to feed our planet.”
Senator Bill Heffernan, the guest speaker at a dinner on Saturday night, said tougher laws were needed to protect agricultural land and water if Australia is to help to provide food to a growing world population in the future.