Councils clash with state on coal mining

By Paul Hemsley

Councils, community members and rural residents in Victoria are in disagreement with the state government’s support of coal mining exploration.

A media release from focus group, Friends of the Earth said community groups have formed across the ‘coal belt’ of southern Victoria from the Otways, Wonthaggi and Toongabbie in opposition to the wave of exploration licences for coal seam gas, coal and tight gas.

Councils that immediately fall into the areas on the radar for exploration licences are Bass Coast Shire Council and Latrobe City Council.

Bass Coast Shire director of planning and environment, Hannah Duncan-Jones said her council is concerned about private applicants making applications for exploration licences for convent methane exploration.

“It still has strong government support in terms of the investment and return that they will get in royalties should an amount of products be found," Ms Duncan-Jones said.

According to Ms Duncan-Jones, councils have been very concerned about an exploration licence application that has recently been lodged by Leichardt Resources, which is covering about 20 per cent of the shire.

The strong parts of the Bass Shire economy include tourism and agriculture, which would be impacted if it “were to become known for mining with rigs being visible across the landscape and land taken out of agricultural production”.

Ms Duncan-Jones said the council has an advocacy role for the community because the council does not have the ability to control or regulate mining.

“We can only participate in the process, so in this instance, we’ll lodge an objection to the application and we’re working with a number of people in the community who are assisting concerned people in the community to also lodge objections."

She said the position the state government is taking on coal mining is more centred on the Latrobe Valley.

According to Ms Duncan-Jones, the Latrobe Valley has a mining community and “it tends to be quite positive in terms of its local government about mining”.

City of Latrobe CEO, Paul Buckley said the council supports the ongoing sustainable use of the brown coal resource.

“The council also understands the critical contribution that the agricultural sector plays in the local and broader Gippsland regional economy,” Mr Buckley said.

Mr Buckley said the council is keen to ensure there is an “appropriate balance” between the ongoing sustainable use of the coal resource and protecting and expanding the role that Gippsland plays in food production more broadly.

According to Mr Buckley, the council will ensure that residents’ concerns were listened to and that the council would be supporting them.

He said this will particularly apply if it affects the council’s own use plans and an area like Toongabbie.

“There are identified parcels of land that are designed for farming or a zoned residential area close to the township; those sorts of things are embedded in the planning scheme and the council would be supporting its own planning policies in relation to those parcels of land,” he said.

Mr Buckley said if people that are currently local farmers and using their land for food production or agricultural purposes, there will be a significant effect on those people and the council would be "extremely concerned" about it if their properties are affected.

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