LAST night Upper Hunter landholders asked nine by-election candidates what they think about current water policy and ways to protect agricultural land.
Farmers voiced their concerns about impacts of water trading, transmission lines and landholder rights when its comes to land protection. Here’s what candidates had to say.
In order of appearance.
In 2016 the government separated the title of land, what do the candidates think about that, should it be reversed?
Dale McNamara said as a farmer, he has 150 to 200 megalitres of water on the Hunter River and believes that no water should be traded. “The damage that it has done to people in Quirindi, they wanted to take 98 percent of water and the residents fought for years. Eventually they took 95 percent. The farmers are now getting fed from Adelaide back to Quirindi. Abolish this stupid water trading because water should not be traded as shares. We need to support the Upper Hunter agriculture industry, as I said I live on the Hunter River I would hate for them to take water away from me,” said Mr McNamara.
Kirsty O’Connell said water is critical to the future of the agriculture sector and the Hunter River is in need of immediate protection. “No I don’t think water and land should have been separated in terms of title. I not entirely sure that we can unscramble that egg though, but there needs to be a conversation on how that might occur. If there was a practical way for that to happen then I would be supportive of it. If elected, I would be pushing for a study on the Hunter River to understand how mining approvals have impacted our river and to then formulate a plan for its future protection so our agriculture can have certainty going forward,” said Ms O’Connell.
Archie Lea said, “this country is the best country and we need water for our farmers to grow crops. We ourselves are 80 percent water so we need it and it shouldn’t be traded to overseas countries or whoever. It should be for the farmers around this area.”
Tracy Norman said there is a lot of issues with the way the water trading is handled and large companies and corporations being able to buy Upper Hunter water “affects upstream” badly. “I’m with Kirsty, I’m not sure how you untangle that web and I’m also not sure cutting water trading all together is the way to go. I think there is a way, which will take a bigger reign than me to stop the problems with international companies and large corporations that affect the upstream particularly and causes so many issues,” said Ms Norman.
Sue Gilroy said the SFF party has moved a bill three times for water owners to have a registration, disclose where the water is and outline conflicts of interest. “If I was elected I would make sure that bill was put back onto the table so it could pass,” said Ms Gilroy.
Steve Reynolds said he is a firm believer that it should be public knowledge on who owns the water and where it is, by way of the national registry. “I don’t think there should be people in Sydney paying water as a digital currency, you could sit on a megalitre of water for however long and trade it when it gets better. It’s not stock and it should stay with the land, and I echo with Sue about the national registry,” said Mr Reynolds.
David Layzell said water policy is complex and water policy is constantly something that needs to be worked on. “Back in the day when they separated the licences from the land, it was done as farmers believed it would make water trading more flexible. There was a lot of benefits that were talked about, now we are seeing the negatives in terms of this trading and ownership of water and the gaming of the system, I think that’s where the problem is. It’s going to be very difficult to reverse that and re-attach water licences back to the land. If elected this is something I will be looking at, and as some people said unscrambling that egg. It’s worth it and the fight on water policy will never end,” said Mr Layzell.
Jeff Drayton said, “it’s hard to say ‘no the water should be returned to the land where there are a number of different circumstances. It’s a difficult question to say that it should stay with the land because that may not be the case every single time. unfortunately, I don’t have a hard and fast answer to this, because there are cases where that might not be the case.”
Sue Abbott said she doesn’t think water should be traded and water trading has become very problematic. “When the big corporations have been exceptionally greedy and have left many farmers without water. We need to get the farmers together and look at new regulations because we shouldn’t be trading water and leaving farmers and towns without water,” said Ms Abbott.
How would you as a local member define what is important agricultural land and suggest how to provide certainty for the long term security and preservation for the land?
Jeff Drayton said its preservation depends on what land and what industry. “My idea is that we need to strengthen the planning process, we have a planning process now that factors in a lot of issues. One of them of course is environmental issues, we need to make sure we have a strong planning process. The question is what would we do for all areas, it depends on what areas they are. In regards to prime agriculture land, it should be used for prime agriculture reasons and not for anything else,” said Mr Drayton.
David Layzell said there is nothing more dear to the Nationals hearts than protecting agricultural land. “I think we have seen that with the recent track record of making sure the planning around mining and agriculture is reinforced by the strategic plan on mining. We have seen that with the buying back of the licence Shenhua to protect the Liverpool Plains, we have seen that with the modification on the future of mining on the Dartbrook area to stop any open-cut mining in that particular area. These are the actions from a government who really cares about their agricultural farming, and understands we need different industries to co-exist,” said Mr Layzell.
Dale McNamara said the first thing in need of protection is the right of the landowner and the right of the farmers. “Farmers who are losing their rights when they want to put power cables through farms near Merriwa. Where they are going to make these farmers run two farms, where they are going to buy two lots of equipment because they can’t they equipment under these stupid lines. With liveable soils we can feed Australia, what we really need to fight for is the right of the farmers who own the land,” said Mr McNamara.
Kirsty O’Connell said the government has “absolutely ignored” thousands of objects from our community on new mining proposals. “The government that we have gone through this exercise mapping re-sale land, of mapping critical equine cluster, of mapping our critical viticulture cluster and then went through the exercise of issuing its position statement on mining, which actually included mining right next door to a critical viticulture cluster. Which still allows for owners of expired mining leases to continue to explore after their exploration lease has expired. We are seeing a government which are constantly overlooking the map of the re-sale land, showing zero respect for our communities in terms of the location and placement. Political parties have failed to protect our land,” said Ms O’Connell.
Steve Reynolds said planning and policies is the number one key. “At the moment we need hard and fast lines in there for security for the landowner to be able to say this can be mining or can’t be. It can’t be a grey area, we need to have that security for people to understand. Agriculture is our food bowl, it was great to hear that Shenhua was being brought back because at the end of the day we need that agricultural land to bring the food for the economy. At the same aspect, it comes back to our policies and having the right person there to negotiate at the table. We need to have the strong voice here, to go to Sydney after the election,” said Mr Reynolds.
Archie Lea said he grew up on the land and loves the country. “I still reckon there should be a balance with the farmers, they need permission to be able to come onto your land, it doesn’t matter who they are. If they don’t get your permission then no way. Farming is quite simple if you have horses and cattle. I am all for mining, but if a company wants to come in and mine unhanded then it’s not on,” said Mr Lea.
Sue Gilroy said food security within the nation is national security. “Agricultural land should be protected from invasive industries that threaten both the agriculture land and the ground surface water. An Agricultural commissioner should help to secure that and make sure that is happening, we need to have security around our agricultural land to keep them safe,” said Ms Gilroy.
Tracy Norman said there is definitely some marginal land available that should be used for housing or other industries but leave agricultural land alone. “The guys that have talked about planning are absolutely right. But there is no use in having a strategic plan if you are going to totally ignore it. We need to provide certainty, especially on farms that exist now, during the battle with Tellegra Dam no one was investing in their farm because they thought it was underwater. It’s the same thing here, if you don’t know if a coal mine is going to open up tomorrow then would you invest in the land,” said Ms Norman.
Sue Abbott said the Upper Hunter definitely needs land protection and protection from the hunter gas pipeline. “It will completely destroy good farming land, as will the coal exploration licences that are popping up. We do need to stop urban development from coming to prime agricultural land. I also understand from the farmers in Merriwa about the grey transmission lines, there needs to be a big conversation about that too. We have to have a conversation about everything regarding prime agriculture land because it is our food and this is our food security that needs to be protected. So I say no to the hunter gas pipeline, no to coal exploration, no to new coal and let’s have a conversation about the Merriwa transmission lines as well,” said Ms Abbott.
Regarding the proposed TransGrid power line corridor: Why is the impact on agriculture not minimised and alternative options not prioritised?
Sue Abbott said she disagrees on public land and travelling stock routes being used for the transmission lines. “I do think we need to have a conversation about this. Wherever they are planning on putting the transmission lines, we need to look at it because it’s not perfect everywhere,” said Ms Abbott.
Jeff Drayton said the project shouldn’t have been classified as critical infrastructure and should have been looked at differently. “Once it’s critical infrastructure it effectively that means they are just going to come and do it and tell you about it. That should not have been the process, they should have consulted with farmers,” said Mr Drayton.
Sue Gilroy said there should have been consideration taken from the landholders. “There should have been consultation taken and alternate routes considered through this consultation,” said Ms Gilroy.
David Layzell said the Nationals understand that infrastructure in this country is important but it is also important that to listen to the landholders and protect their rights. “One of the jobs of an MP is to listen and to hear some of the concerns and to hear that this issue couldn’t wait till after the by-election,” said Mr Layzell.
Archie Lea said, “I feel as though the landowners should be protected, and also we can find alternative land as Australia is a big country. We can find land for them to build the transmission line, I don’t believe that they should build it on prime agricultural land in Merriwa.”
Dale McNamara said the farmer being sold out yet again. “I don’t believe these transmission lines are being run the cheapest way, the fact of the matter is they prefer to go through these lands instead of spending more money to run them in areas where they don’t impact any farmers,” said Mr McNamara.
Tracy Norman said she is really worried coal industries will be replaced with a renewable industry that is just as damaging. “What I mean by that is I would hate to see these transmission lines be ‘big boys toys’ again and not think about de-centralising these things. Thats the way the government operates is, we like big things, let’s find out whether we need these things in the first place or not. If we do then we need to find alternative routes,” said Ms Norman.
Kirsty O’Connell said the question is about why agricultural land isn’t valued more highly and why is it being impacted. “It doesn’t get the priority it deserves, simply because the government don’t value agriculture as much as other industries. Regardless of what kind of project is impacting your property, we need a strong local voice who has an understanding of the planning system. We haven’t had that, and that kind of representation would make a difference in our community in terms of driving good planning outcomes,” said Ms O’Connell.
Steve Reynolds agreed with Dale McNamara. “Most of the aspects there are is it the preferred route or is it cheapest route. It could be a hard road to go a different direction, but putting these through our agricultural land isn’t the answer. It comes down to that word ‘consultation’ that’s used so freely. It comes down to listening to the community and having that transparency and bringing them on the journey with you,” said Mr Reynolds.
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.