Robust debate at Rural Press Club meeting
THE tone of the Rural Press Club meeting changed when Helen Bender, the daughter of now deceased Darling Downs anti-CSG farmer George Bender, confronted speaker Ian Macfarlane.
She questioned if the mining industry was willing to reduce its water consumption to "a sustainable level”, as she felt current water usage from miners was heavily impacting farmers and the environment.
Before Ms Bender spoke up, the Queensland Resource Council chief executive and former federal politician Mr Macfarlane debriefed the packed Brisbane luncheon about the importance of agriculture and mining coexistence - something he reiterated was possible and essential.
"When we fight we are divided, when we are together we are strong,” he said.
"When we get our coexistence right, we earned Queensland, our two industries together, in excess of $70 billion a year and employed hundreds of thousands of people.”
Mr Macfarlane did not dismiss there had been wrongdoings by the resource industry in the past.
"Look I have a book of horror stories where the resource industry basically relied on their legal right to go onto the land,” he said.
"I think there were two turning points in this, one was when Peter Thompson stood up ... in Toowoomba and said he would make $6 million out of Origin.
"The second turning point was when I stated a policy that Tony Abbott and I agreed to when we were still in opposition, where I said ... that if the farmer doesn't want you on their property then the CSG industry should not go there.
"And the industry has largely adopted that position. The threats and bullying, which I know was around when this industry started, that literally went away.”
Mr Macfarlane said there were many benefits to farmers who made agreements with miners, namely a steady stream of off-farm income and improved infrastructure on the property. However, Ms Bender stated the resource industry would have to greatly change if true coexistence between mining and agriculture were to happen.
"Our two water bores have been impacted by extremely high levels of migrating methane gas, due to coal seam gas extraction. One bore kicked, or exploded. Origin Energy have now decommissioned or tapped all three water bores on that property,” she said.
"Now given the unsustainable take on our underground water resource - by the very same industry you promote and support - it's at the detriment of all other water users, especially our farmers, will you and the resource industry agree to limit your take on our underground water for the long-term sustainability of our future?
"This will require changes by the resource sector, your immature and short-term recklessness, that mind-set, will need to mature to a long-term sustainable vision that will allow for a meaningful coexistence with our ... industry.”
Mr Macfarlane said research into water issues after CSG mining indicated what happened on the Benders' property "was not typical of the industry”.
"Of those people who have allowed scientific measurements on their property, and of those people who have worked with the gas industry and, as I say, there is about 5500 coexistence agreements in place ... the reality is the bulk of the industry that works with farmers has worked out exactly what is happening in the water tables because they have used science.
"If we want to fight amongst ourselves, I can do that. I have been around a little while. I played in the front row. I won the best team spirit medal for the university in the under-19s. If we want to have a fight about it and not use science, we could keep at it for years and years and years.
"But when we use science, and fact, and evidence in this industry, we do solve the problems that we face.”