Rising gas prices and the pitched battle between farmers and miners over coal seam gas extraction — as Crikey reported yesterday — is set to spill over into the federal election campaign. The Greens and Bob Katter are looking to capitalise.

Both the Greens and Katter’s Australia Party, which will field candidates in all 150 House of Representative seats as well as in the Senate, have vowed to take on mining interests and ward off CSG plots from fertile cropping land.

Katter’s policy will exempt productive land from mining, restore property rights, prohibit drilling/fracking on the Great Artesian Basin and implement a 12-month moratorium on all CSG projects. The Greens are calling for a moratorium on CSG extraction and promise to introduce a trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to assess impacts on agricultural land and groundwater as well as fugitive emissions.

Greens leader Christine Milne is convinced CSG will be a big election issue. “It’s extremely serious from a number of points of view. We shouldn’t be starting a new fossil fuel industry at the end of the fossil fuel age. Issues of this century are food and water security,” Milne, who points out she grew up on a dairy farm, told Crikey.

There have been frictions at the state level. The iconic Margaret River food production region in Western Australia has been quarantined from mining in response to political pressure. Last August, without warning, the Victorian government announced a ban on fracking. And in New South Wales, where the ban on fracking was lifted by the O’Farrell government, the Nationals have split with its Coalition partner and demanded strategic farmland be placed off limits.

Critics of CSG also point to the global concern around food security. The federal government is developing a national food plan green paper to foster “a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply”, for both domestic and export markets. The “Asia Century” white paper reported food exports to Asia will be 70% higher by 2050 from 2007 levels due to demand.

The national food plan does acknowledge the impact of coal seam gas, and amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act have established a new “independent expert scientific committee” to examine CSG and large coal mining development.

But Milne is critical of the government’s response to food security. “As long as we can get adequate cheap food, it satisfies the government’s idea of food security. For the Greens, it’s about securing agricultural land and water to maximise food production,” she said.

Many of the areas slated for CSG production are directly above the Great Artesian Basin, one of the world’s largest natural underground water reservoirs covering about 22% of Australia’s land mass. Dr Vincent Post, a hydrogeologist and chief investigator at the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, warns water levels may not be renewable — a key argument by the anti-CSG farming lobby.

Political critics also rally around landholder rights, rising gas prices and health concerns about methane emissions to push for representation in Parliament.

*Sandi Keane holds shares in Santos and Origin as well as a couple of small CSG start-ups. She is the former president of the Up2Us Landcare Alliance and is currently environment editor at Independent Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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