Stephanie Dale

Stephanie Dale

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
Stephanie Dale is a journalist and author with a background of 25 years in media, politics and publishing. Stephanie believes we need to find new ways of sharing our Earth, and making way for all its people, not just those privileged by the current economic system, and all its creatures - on their own terms.
Stephanie Dale
I have two published books available - the novel Hymn for the Wounded Man and the travel memoir My Pilgrim's Heart, which was reviewed recently by the Huffington Post.
NSW Government media release - protecting some families, not others

NSW Government media release – protecting some families, not others

By Penny Blatchford

Most Australians enjoy the freedom to make choices about their lives – whom we marry, if we will have children, where we live and where we work. It would seem for people like me who choose to marry a farmer, have a family, live on the farm and make that farm our primary business, our freedom to continue to choose our life is being taken away.

Governments across Australia, without any sense of balance or democracy, are choosing to turn our countryside , including our wilderness and our farms into a nationwide industrial gasfield.

On 3 October 2013, the NSW government continued to make choices on our behalf by protecting selected people within our communities – and not others. NSW Minister for Industry and Infrastructure, The Hon. Brad Hazzard, proudly announced this in his ‘peace of mind’ media release.

In NSW, communities offered this special status are those who choose to live in areas zoned residential, and those whose farms fall into two industry categories in a specific location: equine and viticulture in the Hunter Valley.

Communities who do not hold this special status are those who live on farms outside residential zones and communities that have existing CSG activity already approved, such as the Gloucester Valley.

The government estimates 95{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of dwellings will be protected by exclusion zones.

Unfortunately, I am one of the families that falls within the 5{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} – and I think the logic of exclusion is upside down. As a result of our exclusion we are the ones who can be categorised as having ‘no peace of mind’.

Whilst researching the 2013 Mining SEPP amendments and the NSW Government’s choice not to protect rural homes and residences from industrial gasfield production, I came across the draft regulations for wind farms.

On 19 January, 2012, The Land newspaper reported Minister Hazzard as saying, in relation to the draft guidelines for wind farms,  that they had ‘struck a balance between encouraging investment and ensuring communities were protected from the impacts of wind farm developments’. Public comment on this draft closed 14 March, 2013.

According to this report, Mr Hazzard said a central feature of the draft guidelines was a rigorous gateway assessment for wind farms where proposed turbines were located within two kilometres of existing residences.

Without written consent from every resident within two kilometres of a proposed wind turbine, the ‘gateway process’ would be triggered – meaning  the wind farm operator must lodge an application to a Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) addressing concerns about noise, visual impact, any impact on land values, as well as other issues, Mr Hazzard said.

On 23 December, 2011 Minister Hazzard issued a media release headlined: NSW Government puts community consultation at centre of new wind farm guidelines.

The Newcastle Herald the same day quoted Minister Hazzard  as saying: “Today I am announcing that the NSW Coalition is putting out for public discussion some of the toughest wind-farm guidelines in the country, possibly the world.”

And the Sydney Morning Herald, on the same day, carried the headline: NSW gets worlds toughest wind farm rules.

The opening line in this story was ‘people living within two kilometres of proposed wind farms will have the right to veto them, under a NSW government proposal’.

Compare this to coal seam gas – same planning department, same Minister Hazzard, huge public outcry and community concern for homes, families, farms, wilderness, noise, visual impact, impact on land  values, health, water, soils, environment and so on.

Same motherhood catch phrases as ‘tough new rules’ and ‘tough new measures’ according to a government media release issued on 21 March, 2013.

“We have put in place the toughest CSG controls in Australia,” said Minister Hazzard.

“Communities will now have peace of mind with the two kilometre exclusion zone for new CSG activity around residential areas.”

The simple reply to Minister Hazzard is ‘no, not all communities’ and ‘no, not all families’ have ‘peace of mind’.

So if you have a wind farm proposal on your doorstep everyone within the radius of two kilometres must be happy according to Minister Hazzard’s draft guidelines. But if you have a proposal on a rural property for an industrial gas field 200 metres from your principal place of residence and 50 metres from your garden – these tough new measures do not apply.

If you live in rural NSW, if you do not want CSG mining on your doorstep, you have to shut up and put up – or take matters into your own hands by ‘locking the gate’ to deny access  to miners – and run the risk of being taken to forced arbitration, the Land and Environment Court or await the relevant Minister’s ruling.

Sorry, the world’s toughest rules don’t apply to you!

Now, whether you like and support  wind turbines or not, agree with coal seam gas mining or not, surely there should be consistency within the planning department regarding how people are treated in NSW?

Every family and every place of residence in NSW must be afforded  the same right to feel safe in their own homes – and be granted that 2000 metre exclusion zone, regardless of  where we live.

If the toughest rules in the world can be proposed for residences near wind farms, then those same rules should be applied to the toughest rules for homes facing the threat of an industrial gasfield.

The coal seam gas exclusion zones on residential land in NSW came into force on 4 October, 2013. Stage 2 CSG exclusion zones are on exhibition until 8 November, 2013.

Submissions or feedback on the exclusion zones can be made here.

Concerns include:

  • Rural residential land (zone R5 in the standard LEP) and all large lot residential zonings should be added to the CSG exclusion.
  • The 2km buffer should be applied to the critical industry clusters exclusion areas, as well as the residential exclusions.
  • The village exclusions for CSG must apply to the entirety of the villages of Goongerry, Broke and Bulga.
  • The exclusion areas for residential land and critical industry cluster should be extended to coal mining, which should not be permitted in residential zones or critical industry clusters, with a 2km buffer around each.
  • Resource companies should not be able to nominate to exempt land they own from the critical industry clusters: it will defeat the purpose of the protections to create holes in the maps.
  • There is no protection for agricultural land under the Gateway process. The Regulation must be amended to create a strict exclusion to protect agricultural land from mining for coal and gas, and must apply to all projects not determined before the creation of the amended regulations.
  • The new Gateway provisions are contradictory, implying at one point that the Panel will not even have the power to recommend rejection of a mining application.
  • The process to verify biophysical strategic agricultural land is at the discretion of the Director-General of the Department of Planning, who only needs to “have regard to” the verification criteria.There should not be any discretion to remove land from the map if it meets the criteria
  • There is still no protection for water catchments and aquifers from coal mining and gas extraction. The next step should be the introduction of exclusion zones to protect surface water and groundwater resources from CSG and coal mining.

More information

The Mining State Environmental Planning Policy and Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 was amended on 4 October. You can see the Gateway amendment to the EP&A Regulation here.

The changes that have already been made to the Mining SEPP creating the CSG exclusions can be seen here.

The additional changes, proposing to expand the exclusion zones to seven villages and to identified residential growth areas, can be found here.

You can see maps of the growth areas proposed for protection in your local area here.

The Department of Trade and Investment has provided an’opt-out’ form for resource companies that own land in a critical industry cluster and want it cut out of the map before it’s finalised.

The government’s summaries and Q&A sheets are available here.

Summary of major problems with the new policies:

  • The CSG exclusion zones do not apply to all residential land. Land zoned R5 ‘Large lot residential’ is not included.
  • There is an exclusion zone for critical industry clusters, viticultural and equine, but these do not get a 2km buffer.
  • The CSG exclusions don’t apply to projects that have already been approved, like the Gloucester gas project.
  • There is no exclusion of mining from agricultural lands in the new regulations. The Gateway Panel’s advice and any recommendations they make do not need to be acted upon by consent authorities.
  • Alarmingly, government is specifically calling on mining and CSG companies that owned land before 10 September 2012 that is identified as being part of a critical industry cluster to nominate their land to ‘opt-out’ of the map before it is finalised, which would exempt that land from the CSG exclusion.
  • The new Gateway process does not apply to lands already subject to mining leases, so there may be no protection for agricultural land from mine extensions and it doesn’t apply to projects that had their Director General’s Requirements issued prior to 10 September 2012, which is the case for several coal projects that now threaten land and water, like Drayton South.
  • It does not appear that applications for Gateway certificates can be rejected. The new section 17H of the Mining SEPP says the Gateway Panel ‘must determine an application by issuing a gateway certificate in accordance with this Division’. Section 17J (3) (a) says that in the event that a proponent fails to provide further information requested by the Panel, they can ‘reject and not determine the application’ but this is not consistent with section 17H.
  • If the Gateway Panel runs out of time for their assessment, a certificate with no conditions attached will be automatically issued.
  • The Director-General of planning will be the one that determines verification certificates for biophysical strategic agricultural land, not an authority with any experience of agriculture or any independence from the assessment process.
  • They will do this using the ‘verification criteria’ which you can see here. The Director-General only needs to “have regard to” the verification criteria, so the decision about whether land really is strategic agricultural land is discretionary.
  • The problem of mining in groundwater aquifers that supply agricultural production, and under catchment areas for major drinking water supplies like the Central Coast and Sydney has not been dealt with at all.