MP backs protection bid: Piccoli fights for coal seam gas protection

MEMBER for Murrumbidgee Adrian Piccoli has championed the cause for protection of local agriculture from coal seam gas.

Following a request from the Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board, Mr Piccoli has written to the Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson requesting critical industry cluster protection.

Despite lobbying for the cause, Mr Piccoli did not foresee any form of mining in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) during his lifetime, coal seam gas or otherwise. 

In October last year Ms Hodgkinson wrote to NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO Andrew Gregson explaining the reasons why the MIA was an unlikely candidate for critical industry cluster protection.

In the letter, Ms Hodgkinson explained specific industries needed to apply individually but also went on to say land used for commercial irrigation purposes "does not qualify as an identifiable cluster and is (not) unique or iconic".

When asked what had changed in four months to warrant confidence of protection, Mr Piccoli said the community had become more concerned.

"I don't know the case the Irrigators’ Council made to state government but given the grape growing area around the hunter has the protection, I don't see why the MIA should be different," Mr Piccoli said.

"However, we're so far away from having coal seam gas extraction in the MIA as to make it pretty much unforeseeable, whereas the Hunter has open-cut mining next to vineyards and horse studs.

"Nevertheless there is concern about the potential impact on groundwater which is why I asked for the MIA to be considered as a critical industry cluster."

Griffith Business Chamber's Paul Pierotti was surprised by the Murrumbidgee MP's support for cause so soon after his ministerial colleague’s refusal.

"I don't understand where Adrian Piccoli's coming from when he says we haven't ever needed critical industry cluster protection because there's been a company with exploration licences across the MIA before Grainger Energy," Mr Pierotti said.

"We need the critical industry cluster status to protect intense agriculture but I'm unwilling to put a line through the whole idea of coal seam gas across 33,000 kilometres because it contributes significant economic investment and there are real energy concerns here. 

"People with drip irrigation are paying massive energy bills and all businesses have struggled to meet ever increasing power costs so if we want our local industry to grow, at some point in time we need to start talking about how we're going provide affordable energy."

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