OPPOSITION energy and resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane has launched a passionate defence of coal seam gas, claiming the issue has been "subjected to some of the most disingenuous manipulation" he has seen.
In a speech to the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, Mr Macfarlane said some of the debate on the issue had been "downright misleading and dishonest".
"The result is that many people who are not directly involved in the CSG industry have only ever heard the negatives about the industry. They do not hear about the jobs that CSG and coal are creating," he said.
Mr Macfarlane made the comments while debating a bill designed to establish a scientific committee to oversee the expansion of the CSG and coal industries.
The Member for Groom spoke in support of the bill, citing the need to improve "public confidence in the environmental integrity of these two industries", but he also used the speech to talk about the "regional communities these industries are sustaining".
Mr Macfarlane spoke about his neighbouring seat of Maranoa, held by Nationals MP Bruce Scott, and how CSG was helping it to grow for the "first time in many years".
"That is a direct result of the development of the coal seam in the area," he said.
"We do not hear from the critics of these industries about the export revenue that the coal and coal seam industries are providing. All we hear are claims of division, about farmers who are steamrolled by ruthless mining companies hell-bent on making a profit no matter what the cost."
Mr Macfarlane said farmers and the resources industry managed to co-operate "outside the spotlight".
"Agriculture is still running deep in my blood and it is in my soul that we do everything we can to ensure that that industry and its people have a future," he said.
"But at the same time we owe these people, and more particularly their children, the opportunities that may exist in having these industries coexist.
"One of the pleasing things I see as a result of the so called coal seam boom is that parents are now seeing the opportunity for their children to travel away to university to gain degrees, to become trades people and then to return to their home district and have a future there amongst the family and friends they grew up with."
Mr Macfarlane said the "legitimate concerns" of farmers needed to be addressed, as well as the "incorrect claims that are made by those who have no interest in sustainable development".
But he added some rural land would be deemed "off limits".
"Both the Coalition leader and I have said quite clearly that, while it is beyond our immediate power, the preservation of prime agricultural land is of top priority and that the owners of that land should have the right to say no to development on their land," he said.
"As such, some land will be deemed off limits, but that is a good thing in terms of maintaining productivity in the long-term interests of Australia.
"This committee gives us a good opportunity to balance the interests of mining and farming sectors, to the benefit of both, and to ensure the harmonisation of the state system so that stakeholders know exactly where they stand."
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt and Labor MPs Shayne Neumann and Graham Perrett also spoke in favour the bill, which is at the second reading stage.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012 would establish an independent expert scientific committee on coal seam gas and large coal mining development, with responsibility to:
- advise on research priorities;
- advise on bioregional assessments in areas of high potential impact from coal seam gas and/or large coal mining developments, including providing advice to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment on the priority areas in which these assessments should be undertaken;
- advise on research and bioregional assessments commissioned by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment following consideration of the Committee's advice;
- publish information on options for improving the consistency and comparability of research in this area including in relation to the development of leading practice standards in relation to the protection of water resources from the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments;
- provide the Environment Minister and the appropriate Minister in declared state and territory governments with expert scientific advice relating to coal seam gas and large coal mining development proposals that may have a significant impact on water resources, and;
- provide advice outside this scope in certain circumstances.