Gippsland is one of the most productive and beautiful parcels of land on this earth.
It is also one of the most under-appreciated, one of the few areas with strong, reliable rainfall on an otherwise drought prone continent.
Beneath these green fields lies an ocean of cheap energy that has the potential to revive our flagging manufacturing industries and create thousands of much needed jobs.
With the moratorium on coal seam gas soon ending, greedy eyes are once again fixed on Gippsland.
Make no mistake – state governments have a vested interest in opening up Gippsland to gas companies.
Mining royalties that will fill the state’s coffers can be poured back into marginal electorates and will be sufficient to prop up the government of the day, no matter which party makes the first move. Property rights will be brushed aside as the gas companies’ projects are ruled “in the best interest of the state”.
There is a better way.
The only way to ensure coal seam gas is harvested safely and royalties distributed fairly is for the State Government to transfer ownership of all onshore petroleum and gas reserves to the current land owners.
Forcing the gas companies to deal with the land owner directly ensures the property rights of farmers are respected and the royalties from that gas are funnelled into the local economy rather than marginal Melbourne electorates.
We all know that if the farmers are doing well, our rural towns do well. If the farmers do not want drillers on their lands, they can refuse. It’s their gas, it’s their call.
Removing the state’s ownership of these reserves will also restore people’s faith in the state system of environmental approvals.
When the state has nothing to gain from coal seam gas, they have no reason to push through a project that may damage the environment.
It’s time we ended this nonsensical system where the only thing you own is the right to occupy and work the land as a guest of the government, until they say otherwise.
Jim McDonald – Upper House candidate for the Liberal Democrats.