QUEENSLAND government ministers say they have provided more protection for landholders by adding three million hectares to the strategic cropping land zone this week.
The announcement comes just weeks after property rights groups accused the state government of selling out when Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps made a last-minute amendment to the Mineral and Energy Resources Bill that critics say has reduced the ability of landholders to object to applications for mining leases on their land.
Today, Mr Cripps joined Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Agriculture Minister John McVeigh at a property outside Dalby to announce the 40 per cent increase (from 7.23 million hectares to 10.17 million ha) in strategic cropping land.
Mr Seeney said the move restored the balance of power between rural producers and resources companies.
"Today's announcement means a much larger area of valuable farming land in Queensland is classified as Strategic Cropping Land and offered protections under the new Regional Planning Interests Act 2014," he said.
"Should a landholder not agree to a proposed resource activity on this newly added SCL, the resource company will need to go through a Regional Interest Assessment process, ending the prospect of landholders being taken to Land Court after 40 days."
Property Rights Australia (PRA) chairman Dale Stiller cautiously welcomed the news but said it would be a "token gesture" unless the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Parliament committee improved the draft regulations of the Regional Planning Interest Act.
"This will go a good way to restore the areas mapped by decades of sound soil science in the Good Quality Agriculture Land classification system that the Bligh Labor government removed when it introduced the Strategic Cropping Land Act (SCLA) in 2011," Mr Stiller said.
"All matters relating to SCLAs and their assessment have been left to the regulations of the Regional Planning Interests Act.
"These regulations are currently before the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry parliamentary committee which is due to deliver its report on October 29.
"This latest announcement of improved SCA trigger maps will only be a token gesture if the parliamentary committee in its recommendations does not improve on the draft regulations as requested across the board by all the rural advocacy groups and is also dependent on the minister accepting any improvement in the recommendations.
"The potential is certainly there but until the RPI regulations are made public it is an unknown if greater protections will be available and if some balance is restored in the favour of landholders."
Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said the strategic cropping land trigger map would be updated by the end of 2014 to "ensure consistency with the Agricultural Land Audit and a range of government reforms".
Darling Downs grain producer Kim Bremner said the increased trigger area was good news for cropping.
“The increase means producers will no longer have to apply for cropping tests and it allows the land to be considered regardless of whether it’s grazed or farmed,” Mr Bremner said.
“It’s obvious Queensland has a greater area of viable agricultural soil than the previous Government acknowledged and it gives balance to discussions between farmers and resource companies.
“Resource companies come and go but agriculture will be here for the next 500 years so we need to take steps to preserve it.”