In recent days Environment Minister Greg Hunt has said (Insiders 1st Nov 2015) that there is a ‘moral’ right for landholders to lock their gates to gas companies, even if there is no such legal right. To restate the Minister another way, the current legal powers held by miners to force land access against the will of landholders does not have moral legitimacy.
Our members have known this for some time and we are seeking to address this legal and moral inconsistency by working with the Federal Government on a pathway forward. The issue needs to be broken down into its component parts.
Firstly there is a relatively simple matter of the power imbalance in negotiations between a gas company and a landholder to get a land access agreement. If the landholder cannot disagree to access then any negotiation is unfair and any agreement that is struck could be unconscionable - done so under duress.
Secondly, irrespective of individual land access, gas companies must earn a social license, and as has been shown in the Metgasco experience in the Northern Rivers of NSW, this is not a fait accompli.
Thirdly, there needs to be better upfront protections for key land and water resources so that agricultural industries and the environment are not permanently compromised. The underlying regulation, compliance and enforcement regimes must be robust. Justice must be done and be seen to be done when companies fail to meet the terms of their environmental approvals.
These matters can be difficult to resolve, but it is important that the problem not be reduced to simply a matter of money.
We believe that reform of access arrangements giving power to landholders and native title holders is urgently called for.
(Phil Laird, Letters to the Editor, The Land Newspaper 26.11.2015)