Opinion – Effects of Land Use on Coal Resources


Mining interests have always played the long game to ensure that mineral reserves are available in the future for mining. And governments have happily danced to their tune, yet there are two sides to this story.

In Queensland, the Newman Government is currently fueling this process in their new planning policy saying, that it wishes to protect mining reserves from “incompatible development” by planning incompatible land uses such as “urban development away from known reserves”.

The NSW approach began in the early 90’s with the little known report “Effects of Land Use on Coal Resources” from February 1994. Reading the report in August 2012 shows how the plans of coal interests inside the state bureaucracy are finally coming to fruition.

Brad Mullard, then Chairman of the Coal Resource Development Committee who co-authored the report found that there was insufficient accessible coal “to maintain production at the forecast levels beyond 2010”. It went on to say that the remaining coal in the state “is already affected by other land uses, particularly National Parks and prime agricultural land”.

The report said that future projects “were under threat from some other form of land use or could attract strong community opposition if mining were proposed. Action is required to ensure that these  …  resources will be available to meet the future needs of the coal industry”.

One such threat is “the power of veto by the landowner to exclude open cut mining from agricultural land’. This particularly so re Coal Seam Gas.

Unable to accept the situation, the CRDC recommended the “development of a multiple land use strategy for conservation areas” and the “protection of strategically important coal resources”.

Rather than recommend a compatible land use strategy, the 1994 report proposed multiple or sequential land use and this approach is a key driver of the land use conflict being waged today.

The multiple land use strategy which is now being translated into the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy has caused investment uncertainty in non mining industries such as agriculture and community anguish in areas identified with potential mineral reserves.

When one land use is already in place it is up to the new entrant to be compatible with the existing community and environment. This is the essence of social license and community acceptance.

For his efforts, Mr Mullard this year received a Public Service Medal for “his outstanding contribution to policy development, assessment and allocation of energy and mineral resources in NSW”.

Presumably, this policy is the one that is dividing the community and probably the cabinet right now.

At a consultation meeting, earlier this year in Gunnedah to help resolve the conflict, the Planning Minister himself described the incompatible land use of open cut mining and state forests as ”illogical” in front of 400 people. At a loss to explain the land use conflict he passed the issue over to his expert panel which included the now Executive Director of Mineral Resources NSW, Brad Mullard.

Given the opportunity to explain the multiple land use strategy and a resolution that could consider underground mining, the panel deferred the issue to the Planning Assessment Commission. The PAC recommended the Maules Creek mine the very next day. It is now known that the Chair of the PAC, Gabrielle Kibble, was the former CEO of the Department of Planning in 1994 and the department was represented on the original CRDC.

Importantly, the thrust of the 1994 CRDC report is being adopted by the O’Farrell government. The basic incompatibility of highly destructive extractive industries with productive farmland, bushland and water resources is being weighed against the benefits to sectional interests in the NSW Governments cabinet room now.

For those who wish to have their views heard, now is the time as the Strategic Regional Land Use and Aquifer Interference policies push forward to enshrine the last vestiges of a report which was founded in the thinking of last century.