16:50 Tonight I rise to speak of an issue that is becoming increasingly concerning in my electorate. It is the conflict between the expanding coal seam gas industry and agriculture. The coal seam gas industry has been established in Queensland for quite some time, but it is relatively new in New South Wales and is expanding quite rapidly. I think one of the reasons for the rapid expansion was the way-and this probably allows the environment for the conflict to fester-the previous state government pretty well sold exploration licences willy-nilly right across New South Wales. There is a feeling, I think, in the farming community that this is happening far too quickly and they are losing control of the land that they farm.
The areas where coal seam gas is being explored varies from country around the edges of the Pilliga Scrub to Tarrawanna to the south of that, and from grazing country to some of the most highly productive grain-growing areas in Australia, between Moree and Narrabri.
While I am not opposed to the coal seam gas industry as such, and I believe that there is a place for both farming and coal seam to coexist, I think that we need to have a closer look at the safety aspects of coal seam gas mining.
There have been groups who are locking their gates and disengaging from the process. While I can understand the emotion, I honestly do not think that is the best way to go. I think that people need to be engaged. They need everyone involved in this so that we do not get an outcome that is not the best one. I have concerns that some people will disengage from the process and their neighbours will become engaged and then we will end up with industry on one place and not another, affecting the land values.
For the fears to be allayed-and I understand that the technology has come a long way from some of the earlier disasters in Queensland and also that the underlying subterrain is different in nearly every location where coal seam gas is located-the mining companies need to work to get information out as to the safety of their operations and work with landholders so that we are not going to see prime productive land disadvantaged. We do not want to see gas wells spread right across the landscape. If there is a way of having them clustered in treelines, around the edges of hills or in roadways or something like that so they are easily maintained, they are not going to affect the management of the property and, more importantly, they are not going to affect the underground water then there might be a possibility that the two can co-exist in harmony. If the farmers can see that having a gas well on their property is an asset rather than a liability, we might be getting some way to overcoming this problem.
The Senate Standing Committee on Rural Affairs and Transport, which is chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan, has held hearings across Australia and it still is. It has been in Narrabri at my request. It will be reporting before Christmas. We eagerly await the outcome of that inquiry. Also, the member for New England has introduced a bill to amend the EPBC Act. Last night that was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry. That inquiry will hopefully have a 60-day timeframe. I will be looking very closely at what that committee finds. One of the complaints I get when I go around is that there is too much red tape. We need to be very careful that, with our best intentions in wishing to allay the fears of people, we do not introduce legislation which will actually only be more red tape, will overlay what is actually a state responsibility and in effect will catch out the farmers who the legislation will be trying to help. Indeed, if the EPBC Act is to preserve the landscape, regulations that apply to one must apply to the other. That is a concern to me. (Time expired)