Food before coal: Newman backs farmers

CAMPBELL Newman has tagged agriculture as Queensland’s most important industry.

“You can’t eat coal for breakfast,” he declared in a speech to party faithful.

The Liberal National Party leader yesterday seized on escalating tensions over the spread of mining exploration into traditional farming land with a rousing defence of agriculture in his first speech at the party’s annual convention.

Outlining his electoral pitch at the party’s last convention before the next Queensland election, which is due by March, Mr Newman said the state’s future economic growth depended on the “four pillars” of agriculture, construction, resources and tourism.

“When it comes to the four pillars, for me, for the team, nothing is more important than agriculture,” he said. “As someone said the other day at this conference, we can’t eat coal for breakfast.

“As a party, we will always stand up and fight for agriculture in this state — to fight for the people who provide food and fibre for a growing world.”

While Queensland’s resources sector has boomed into a $36 billion industry, it employs 80 per cent fewer people than the state’s $14bn agricultural and food sectors. About 267,000 people work in those industries, almost 12 per cent of Queensland jobs.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the “two great industries” could co-exist for economic growth.

“We understand that the LNP will have a strong focus on its rural heartland,” he said.

Mr Newman is expected to visit central Queensland’s fertile “golden triangle” tomorrow.

Agricultural “strategic cropping land” has been protected there under Bligh government laws, but locals are outraged over an exemption granted to coalminer Bandanna Energy – which was filed after the deadline for applications – that will allow the company to develop an underground mine under Springsure.

Mr Newman did not offer a view on the proposal but said the area “must be protected”.

The party has not yet released its policy on the protection of prime farming land – an issue rural stalwart politician Vaughan Johnson said was “one of the most pressing” for the coming election.

The LNP convention this weekend fell short of endorsing a moratorium on coal-seam gas exploration – echoing changes introduced in NSW – but voted to call for a detailed public inquiry into the short- and long-term effects of exploration for coal-seam gas.

Today, the Senate rural affairs and transport committee will meet at Roma, in southwest Queensland, for public hearings into the impact of coal-seam gas and coalmining developments.

Mr Newman also vowed to overhaul Queensland’s bureaucracy by reinstating a department of primary industries. He condemned the Department of Environment and Resource Management and accused it of putting politics above science.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said it was a “reprehensible attack” on the department. “If it wasn’t for DERM, the coal-seam gas industry would now be expanding with no protections in place for landholders and groundwater,” she said.