THE Minister for Western NSW, Kevin Humphries, has encouraged a group of farmers to continue to ”lock the gate” to prevent coal seam gas companies entering their land just days after a cabinet decision on new rules to balance the interests of miners and farmers.
Mr Humphries, who is the member for Barwon, flew to Moree last Thursday to meet a local farmer and anti-coal seam gas activist, Penny Blatchford.
Ms Blatchford owns 7000 hectares at Gurley and Bellata, between Moree and Narrabri, covered by an exploration licence for Leichhardt Resources, which wants to look for coal seam gas.
The exploration licence is one of 22 such licences renewed on Tuesday, the same day the government announced its strategic land use policy for how coal seam gas drilling and coal mining may be carried out in NSW.
Ms Blatchford and 83 other landholders have been refusing to sign access agreements with Leichhardt Resources and other companies for about 18 months as part of a ”lock the gate” protest.
”He said it was important for me to hold the line and not take our [protest] signs down just yet,” Ms Blatchford said. ”He said he had no problem with people locking their gates.”
She said Mr Humphries told her: ”My view is no means no. If you don’t want them in, I think you still have a very good case. I think it would be impossible for them to break through that.”
Mr Humphries expressed concern over the policy when a draft version was released in March.
His latest comments risk undermining cabinet solidarity and reinforce tensions between the Nationals and Liberals.
The policy makes mining companies wanting to access areas classified as ”strategic agricultural land” have their proposals examined by an independent scientific panel. But farmers and environmental groups are furious no area has been quarantined from potential mining activity.
Ms Blatchford said Mr Humphries was genuinely concerned about farmers. But the NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said his comments acknowledged the policy meant farmers’ only choice was to break the law.
”The Nationals have such a low level of confidence in their own government’s policy that they’re telling farmers to keep locking the gate,” he said.
But Mr Humphries said he was aware of Ms Blatchford’s concerns and wanted to explain the policy.
”I fully support the NSW government’s strategic regional land use policy and am proud of the balance it has struck between the interests of agriculture, the environment and mining,” he said.
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