It is the most overused word in all matters related to coal seam gas in Queensland. The word “coexistence” is being used increasingly by industry and government with regard to the interaction between resource activities and agriculture.
In the legislation that gave the Gasfield Commission its powers it was stated that the purpose of this new statutory body was to facilitate sustainable coexistence. However there was no definition provided of what sustainable coexistence is and I’m unaware of the Gasfield Commission developing any satisfactory definition since.
Cartoon sourced [here]
In recent months the Qld government has with considerable haste offered for public comment draft amendments to a whole series of different planning policies. A common thread was that the needs of increased resource activity and agriculture were all made possible by coexistence. Again coexistence was not defined.
Also a common thread in these amendments was that there was no provision for the potential for co-existence to not be possible, merely that the development of coexistence criteria will somehow enable coexistence to occur. By not making the allowance for the situation where co-existence is not achievable, the provision is made for resource activities to be able to proceed in all areas.
The reality is that coexistence arrangements are opening doors for exploration and resource extraction. Landowners have never felt any comfort that any such arrangement would allow for full farming production and efficiency. The use of this term provides no legal or compensable protection for landowners
Coexistence infers some kind of mutually beneficially arrangement. However, farmers are not experiencing the joy of a mutually beneficial arrangement, rather they are facing stress, heartache, loss of time, loss of amenity, impacts on land, business, lifestyle, and fear for the future of underground water impacts, from an industry thrust upon them.
Currently coexistence could be defined as primary producers finding a way to adapt their businesses to accommodate the CSG activities.
Joanne Grainger, Queensland Farmers Federation President wrote in the QFF weekly column in the 19th September 2013 issue of the Queensland Country Life newspaper
“ QFF agrees that all regulatory frameworks should provide as much certainty as possible to all stakeholders but does not agree with the concept that the outcome of planning and assessment processes should automatically be various forms of coexistence.
The principle does not apply to planning processes in urban areas, where land use conflicts are avoided by separating incompatible land uses, and should not apply to rural areas.
An important principle to follow is that coexistence should be mutually beneficial to all parties and that where this is not the case, it should be pursued.
In fact the outcome in many intensive farming areas should be that in certain areas of agricultural production there are no prospects of coexistence and these areas should be off-limits to any resource activity.”
Photo sourced The Australian
The areas that there are no prospects of coexistence and should be off limits to resource activity are:
· CSG wells, roadways, pipeline and other associated infrastructure on alluvial flood plains that are cropped.
· where irrigation entitlements to aquifers have been reduced and will be reduced in future often resulting in loss of crops, the notion that resources companies can have unimpeded access to that water is abhorrent
· where underground water supply for livestock will be lost to CSG activity and there is no viable alternative supply of an equal standard
· where the quality of the water will be affected by CSG activity
· high density well heads especially in areas where broadacre cropping and large scale machinery are the lynchpin of efficiency, having to reduce either or both of these will cause a permanent decrease in efficiency
So how should coexistence be defined? Surely coexistence is either a beneficial or stable interaction between resource proponents and the current land and agricultural resource users. And surely it should be recognised that sometimes coexistence just isn’t possible.