Can farmers afford the mining boom?

miningThe past week has delivered some of the clearest evidence yet that both sides of politics are utterly in thrall to the mining sector. When asked about the escalating battle between farmers and coal seam gas miners by radio broadcaster Alan Jones, Tony Abbott made the apparently uncontroversial observation that ‘if you don’t want something to happen on your land, you ought to have a right to say “No”.’

This was widely interpreted as a gaffe on Abbott’s part, given how much he owes his leadership to the continuing support of the mining sector. After learning how much his comments had alarmed ‘investors’, Mr Abbott took the easy way out, saying that ‘Land use decisions are very important but they are fundamentally a matter for the state governments.’

The Coalition then refused to support a Greens bill which would force miners to seek written permission from farmers before entering their land – not because they don’t like the bill, but because they don’t like the Greens. ‘We are not going to support the Greens because the Greens are just against mining, full stop,’ Mr Abbott said.

But even more bizarre than Abbott’s backflip has been the government’s suggestion that giving miners power to explore wherever they choose is a fundamental principle keeping our resource-dependent economy ticking over. What seems to be obvious for the government – that landholders own what is on their land but not what is under it – does not necessarily make sense to the rest of us. Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson tried to argue that we all share in the wealth from mining: ‘These resources are not owned by the farmers. They’re actually owned by the whole Australian community. Where do you think we create the wealth in these communities to provide the hospitals, the schools, the roads, the railways etc?’

What Minister Ferguson neglected to point out is that Mining Tax Mark 2, agreed between Prime Minister Gillard and the three biggest mining companies, will deliver $160 billion less to the people of Australia over the next ten years than Mining Tax Mark 1, because of the political pressure that the mining companies were able to apply to the government at the time. The real reason that the Governments are so timid in supporting of farmers’ rights is that farmers can’t launch a multi-million dollar advertising campaign any time they feel threatened.

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