Tony Abbott might have been back-tracking yesterday morning on taking action that might slow the development of the coal seam gas industry but that will not stop the issue being troublesome for him.
The National Party clearly has concerns about the impact of the mining technique on farmers as Barnaby Joyce has made clear during a current Senate committee inquiry and Bill Heffernan from within his own Liberal Party seems to hold similar views.
No doubt it was the views of this pair that led the Opposition Leader on Friday to make the comment that “if you don’t want something to happen on your land, you ought to have a right to say no.” For someone who had not thought the issue through this seemed like an okay attitude to take but it alarmed a mining industry that relies on the principle that landholders are required to allow mining companies access to their properties for exploration or mining.
It is not comfortable for a Liberal Party leader to be caught between the competing interests of farmers and miners, hence the change of attitude today. Now the Abbott doctrine is that it is really a matter for State Governments while federally he attempts to have the proverbial two-bob each way. The mining industry was very important and should be “broadly supported” but “mining shouldn’t be allowed to destroy prime agricultural land and mining companies should always respect the rights of farmers.”
I doubt that this comment will make the issue go away and the Greens will show up the divisions within the Coalition by attempting to legislate to give farmers the right to limit the access of seam gas developers to their land.
The winner out of this is the Labor Government which has little to lose by way of the votes from farmers and will benefit by having an issue where it clearly is seen to have a different view from Bob Brown and his team.