Gateway panel needs overhaul

The Land Column
Fiona Simson
This last week we have seen our worst fears realised in relation to the operation of the Gateway Panel. It’s obvious that this system is flawed as projects sail through with no ability for the panel to recommend that a project not go ahead. We've been highly vocal in our criticism of this process for a while, but it should now be obvious to government that it needs strengthening. The crux of the issue is this: The gateway process only allows the panel to issue certificates or issue conditional certificates. This means that for state significant mining and gas on bio-physical strategic agricultural land (BSAL), no matter what is at stake, the Gateway Panel cannot recommend that a project not go ahead or prohibit a project.
As we’ve seen with the Bylong determination issued by the panel last week, the conditions on certificates issued by the panel could be more aptly described as observations rather than conditions or recommendations.  It’s quite hard to believe the NSW Government will go to the extent of identifying our most productive and fertile agricultural lands, some of the best in the world, only to subject these lands to procedures that could not be more weak.
NSW Farmers has major issues with the identification of BSAL and serious concerns about what the Gateway Panel can actually do to constitute assessment. Prior to the 2011 election, the Coalition promised to protect agricultural land and water from the impacts of mining and CSG. Community concern about these projects has continued to grow during this government’s term. 
Now we’re approaching mid 2014, we have seen the first round of projects pass through the gateway and our initial concerns are ringing true. It is yet to be seen how the Planning Assessment Commission will utilise the panel’s conditional certificates. However, we have serious concerns as to the ability of the commission to adequately assess compliance with any conditions. We’ve stated before that a loop-back mechanism whereby the panel can assess whether a proponent has met certain conditions could be one way to ensure compliance and could also send the message that the entire process is not just a rubber stamp exercise.    
Clearly, it’s not what was promised and it is not what communities and landholders expect when it comes to the assessment of mining or gas projects on productive agricultural land. NSW Farmers is not against mining or gas - we will just not tolerate these industries at the expense of our precious food and fibre producing land and water. It’s time to rework a system which could potentially offer suitable protection for productive agricultural land.

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