Call for reforms to stop the expansion of CSG

THE next Federal Government should pass laws making it illegal to mine coal seam gas on food producing land, a left-wing think tank says.

Research commissioned by The Australia Institute found the Commonwealth should be doing more to protect agricultural land from CSG developments.

The Australian Network of Environmental Defender's Offices, which compiled the report, identified areas of the constitution which it argues would allow for national reforms to stop the expansion of CSG in certain areas.

Drafting new federal legislation making it an offence for a corporation to use food producing land for unconventional gas development, without written consent from the land's owners, is one of the report's key recommendations.

The TAI report also called for the cancellation of bilateral agreements with the states to ensure the commonwealth retained an approval role for unconventional gas developments, and for the National Food Plan to be strengthened by introducing mandatory exclusion zones around prime agricultural land used for food production.

TAI executive director Richard Denniss said the recommendation calling for a change to the law would make it clear the Federal Government should take control for CSG approvals and not the states.

"The Coalition plans to pass responsibility for these regulations to the states. Allowing the states to make these decisions without robust reform at a federal level could be disastrous for our communities, the environment and the economy," Dr Denniss said.

The Federal Parliament passed a law earlier this year making water a trigger for federal intervention on CSG and large coal mining development approvals.

But despite the Coalition supporting the reform, Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane told The Guardian in May a Coalition government would "get around" the law.

"We want a one-stop shop, and that's what we will achieve. We'll delegate approvals to the states," Mr Macfarlane said.

"We already have an expert panel to assess water impacts. Labor is assuming the state governments are incompetent and don't have processes in place to deal with it."

CSG expansion is a red hot election issue in a number of federal seats, including Page and Richmond in northern New South Wales.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was asked during a visit to Lismore on Monday why Labor's platform supported the development of the unconventional gas industry.

He told reporters that in "sensitive areas like the Northern Rivers" the Commonwealth would have the final say on approvals.

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