Threat to SA’s valuable farmland doesn’t make sense

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Lainie Anderson: Threat to SA’s valuable farmland doesn’t make sense

BREAKING NEWS: The world’s richest deposit of gold and copper has been found under the eastern suburbs of Adelaide.

Residents of Norwood and Burnside have been ordered to welcome minerals exploration companies into their backyards, as news emerges that Victoria Park could also become a mine under the Marshall Government’s open access policy.

Sounds implausible, right?

Well, not if your backyard happens to be a high-yield farm on Yorke Peninsula and elsewhere across the state, growing crops that for generations have helped to bolster the state’s coffers.

Under controversial amendments to the Mining Act now before parliament, farmers say they’ll lose the right to veto access to mining exploration on their land.

Debate on the amendments was thwarted — or at least postponed until next year — by four country Liberal MPs who crossed the floor late last month.

Some of those MPs were publicly branded “bloody fools” by a former Liberal MP.

But I reckon those rebel MPs — Nick McBride, Fraser Ellis, Dan Cregan and Steve Murray — are legends for sticking up for their local communities.

If they can’t do that, what the hell are they doing in parliament?

Yorke Peninsula farmers Ben Wundersitz, Zoe Oster and Stephen Lodge welcomed the delay to the mining Bill.

Farmers say that promised consultation has been virtually non-existent, and they’re angry the legislation was about to be pushed through parliament during grain harvest — when they’re too busy to arc up.

The four MPs say they crossed the floor after exhausting all communication with their own Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, which would suggest farmers are on the money about a lack of consultation.

Premier Steven Marshall says he supports the proposed mining Bill because resources under the ground belong to every South Australian. In theory, he’s right.

The vast majority of us would agree the state should capitalise on (and benefit from) all the riches with which we’ve been blessed.

The vast majority of us are also proud of resources companies such as Santos, BHP and OZ Minerals and share in the excitement when rich new deposits are announced up north, alongside expected cash windfalls and job opportunities.

We know farming and mining are both vital to the success of SA (albeit with agriculture vastly more lucrative at $4.7 billion in exports, compared to $2.9 billion for mining in 2016/17).

But here’s a question.

Who is doing the calculation as to whether we’re better served in the long term by infinite years of agriculture, viticulture, tourism etc, rather than a finite return from mining in certain areas of SA?

That question is most especially pertinent on prime agricultural land in a country such as Australia, where World Bank figures suggest only 6 per cent of land is arable.

Wouldn’t it be sensible — financially astute, even — to explore every square kilometre of the state that’s not fit for farming, before we consider up-ending farming land and communities that grow the food that feeds the world?

Technology is advancing at a monumental pace.

It makes sense to consider leaving resources that are ours — and aren’t going anywhere — until a time when we can perhaps extract the minerals below without compromising the valuable earth above? (And gain a premium into the bargain, because they’ve been extracted from everywhere else.)

In the state’s South-East, the Marshall Government has held fast to its promised 10-year ban on fracking.

If I was a farmer, staring down the prospect of a mining company being able to swan on to land that had been honestly bought and carefully toiled by my family for generations, I would be incensed by that double standard. So I’d say Premier Marshall and his Mining Minister have a long way to go with their country chinwag on this proposed mining Bill.

Loyal regional communities who helped put the Liberals back into power deserve better than tokenistic consultation and Labor-designed legislation chucked into parliament in the final sitting weeks.

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