OPINION: It's gas or grapes, so tell us which has won

JUST five months prior to the last state election the executive of the peak Hunter Valley wine industry body, the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association, met with the now elected Premier, Barry O'Farrell, his Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, and the Minister for Environment, Robyn Parker.

At that meeting wine industry representatives were asked what a Liberal/National coalition could do for the wine industry were they to be elected.

We asked for two things: fix our roads and get rid of coal seam gas exploration and mining in the vineyard area. They agreed that if they were elected they would do both as a matter of course.

This week the Liberal/National state government released a document outlining their policy created to hopefully solve the majority of conflicts of land use issues in NSW.

The argument went that the majority of these conflicts were created by the negligence of the previous government. The document was supposed to provide certainty to the Hunter Valley wine industry in relation to the conflicts of land use created by the incursion of coal seam gas into the vineyard area of the Lower Hunter Valley. It was supposed to deliver on the pre-election promises made.

One wouldn't think it would be too difficult a proposition for the planning department of this state to create a position of certainty for the wine industry of the Hunter.

It is the oldest wine-growing region in Australia with some of the oldest surviving grapevines in production in the world. It is worth more than $1.8 billion to the state and provides a long-term sustainable regional industry that employs thousands.

Just as importantly, it is the second-most visited tourist destination in a state that has a 10-year plan to double tourism.

After promising they would provide certainty for the future of this vital industry, why has the state government failed in their promise?

What this newly released document has failed to consider are vital issues that affect the day-to-day lives of everyone who works and lives within the wine tourism industry of the Hunter Valley.

What are the people affected by the coal seam gas exploration licence that exists over the vineyard area supposed to do with this new policy?

An exploration licence, given so easily by the previous state government, allows the licence-holder a five-year opportunity to hold the whole vineyard area to ransom, while they create speculative opportunity over share prices. Meanwhile, the wine industry withers on the vine.

What happened to the promise this government made to consider the cumulative impact of these intrusive, extractive industries marching up our beautiful valley?

What happened to the promises this government made to consider all proposed developments using a whole-of-government approach that recognises the sociological and economic ramifications of any development using a long-term, sustainable perspective?

What about the infrastructure requirements, associated with this mineral boom, that our society depends on being the responsibility of the same government that supports the multinational mining conglomerates that desire to suck our land dry?

How disappointing is it that all of their promises appear to be hollow. Surely we deserve better.

Mr Hazzard has promised the wine industry on more than one occasion that it would not allow the coal seam gas industry to work in the Hunter Valley vineyard area.

Commonsense would suggest that you cannot hope to have a clearly visible industrialised production industry co-existing with a country tourism experience.

The coal seam gas industry continues to talk co-existence.

On behalf of the Hunter Valley wine industry I can assure everyone that the word does not exist as far as we are concerned. It will be one or the other. If it is to be coal seam gas then the government needs to let us know now.

Stop this time-wasting community consultation rhetoric. Stop the thousands of hours spent by local volunteers fighting their campaigns against these rich, share-listed companies. Stop the huge physical, emotional and financial drain on our community that just wants to live in peace with the knowledge that our kids can continue to live on the land their parents have looked after for them.

Andrew Margan is Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association president.

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