Wednesday, 26 March 2014

PRA: Farmers exposed to CSG contamination risks

Property Rights Australia Media Release:

MLA negligence exposes beef producers to unnecessary risks

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Property Rights Australia is calling for the immediate release of a report funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to determine beef producer liability if cattle are found to contain residues due to coal seam gas activity.
The report completed 12 months ago was never released with the consulting law firm advising that it should not be “due to the fact that it advises liability.”
Joanne Rea, chair of PRA said, “The question of liability lies heavily on the minds of cattle producers in coal seam gas areas and the reason why the research project was initiated. The non-release of this report raises so many questions starting with, “Did MLA and Cattle Council Australia (CCA) not question the validity of the law firm’s advice?  Surely they have a greater responsibility to the levy paying cattle producers.”
Instead of releasing the report CCA issued a communique which suggests that having signed a National Vendor Declaration producers are liable for any contamination. Beyond the essential advice that landowners should seek professional advice the information in the communique is not fully informed or helpful especially given the naivety of advising, “Find out about the CSG operator. It is important to be sure that you are dealing with a reputable company”
“It is unconscionable that MLA and CCA has left unchallenged the transfer of all the risks to the cattle producers and have not been diligent and proactive to find the means that producers may enjoy full indemnity from an often uninvited guest who shares the same business space,” said Mrs Rea; “Levy payers are not just PIC numbers; they are often farming families who would be devastated financially and emotionally if left exposed and subjected to quarantine because of contamination.” 
Landowners who have had specialist legal advice and where precise provision has been allowed for in a Conduct and Compensation Agreement may or may not have some protection in an event of coal seam gas contamination but not so neighbouring properties.
PRA believes that landowners need to be guaranteed complete indemnity for all adverse impacts, both immediate and consequential, upon their business, land, water and assets. Landowners need the assurance that redress is not just available for the life of the resource project.
The funding and structure of MLA and CCA are subjected to the current Senate inquiry into Grass fed beef levies. At the March 10 Canberra hearing evidence was given that the majority of MLA project reports are not released. Senator Heffernan said. “Even if (those figures) are just 10pc right, if you get a research grant surely you have to account for it.”
Joanne Rea reflecting on this remark said that, “Even if it was the case that only this one report was not released with no action taken the potential ramifications for producers is so great, an indication that MLA and CCA have been highly negligent.”
Chair of the Senate Inquiry, WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle, remarked at the Canberra hearing, "It seems everybody is making money except the poor bugger on the land."


  1. There seems to be corruption at every turn, Dale.

    And how true as Senator Glen Sterle says: "It seems everybody is making money except the poor bugger on the land."

  2. Poor misunderstood MLA believes it should be unaccountable from the confused unwashed that it is supposed to represent; while at the same time washing its hands of standing up for beef producers.
    That the impression one gets from reading a Rural Press article published online this morning, MLA hits back on CSG.

    "the key finding - that producers who signed a National Vendor Declaration (NVD) could be liable for any contamination"

    The issue is once that MLA & CCA received this information, what did they do about it?
    Their inaction has left beef producers high & dry exposed to the risk of liability.

    Lawyer Bill Loughnan, partner at Thynne and Macartney is also quoted in the article,
    “One of the most important issues we say as lawyers acting for rural landholders is if you are going to have a Conduct and Compensation Agreement, you need to have indemnity.
    “If someone is coming on your land to do something and something goes wrong, it’s effectively their problem.”
    What this does not cover is if there is contamination, for example through an aquifer, as the result of a CSG company that has never been on your land.

    The burden of proof also falls to the landholder
    “If we’re relying on the government to help us, I am not sure if that faith is well placed.”

  3. What Joanne says, sounds very logical (and fair) -
    "PRA believes that landowners need to be guaranteed complete indemnity for all adverse impacts, both immediate and consequential, upon their business, land, water and assets. Landowners need the assurance that redress is not just available for the life of the resource project."

    if there is no risk of contamination as the CSG producers would no doubt claim, then why would they object to accepting responsibility?

  4. In the Farmonline article on the subject,
    “Ms Debeck said there seemed to be confusion over the role of the MLA, which is a marketing and research body, not an advocacy group.”

    I think it is MLA who are “confused” about their role.
    MLA have promoted and continue to promote NVD’s. Their website tells us,
    “When you tick the box on your National Vendor Declaration form, you are guaranteeing your on-farm practices meet LPA requirements. Your tick must be backed up by accurate farm records.
    I would ask the question “Is MLA making itself liable by implying that accurate farm records is all that is required to indemnify oneself against any liability for a contamination incident when the know full well that livestock producers may well be liable for an incident that is not of their making and of which they may be unaware?”


    In late March 2012, the Mount Isa Magistrates’ Court imposed a record fine in respect of the release of contaminants to waterways.

    In 2011, CopperCo Ltd, the former owner of the Lady Annie Mine located approximately120km North-West of Mount Isa, was charged with causing serious environmental harm under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act).

    After entering a plea of guilty in December 2011, CopperCo Ltd was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine as well as $83,109 in investigation costs.

    The offence related to an uncontrolled release of contaminated water into stormwater ponds and surrounding creeks in the wet season of 2009. The incident occurred soon after receivers had been appointed to handle the affairs of CopperCo Ltd and its subsidiaries including Lady Annie Operations Pty Ltd.

    According to the then DERM, the uncontrolled release resulted in the most serious case of water contamination in Queensland’s history. The release led to substantial environmental damage, with an area of contamination extending for more than 50 kilometres and resulting in a level of toxicity which killed freshwater marine life. In addition, there was a possibility that the poor water quality resulting downstream within Saga and Inca creeks might harm livestock

    In addition to the fine, CopperCo Ltd had also been required to spend an estimated $11 million on clean up and rehabilitation costs for the site.

    Other mines in the region have also been fined for breaches of the EP Act during the 2008-2009 wet season, including MMG Century Limited (fined $130,000), and Ernst Henry Mine (fined $100,000).


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