By Diet Simon and Mark Rodriquez
Queensland's Labor government, one of the biggest backers of coal mining, is calling for public submissions to protect strategic cropping land now under threat from mining.
It is prioritising the fertile country of the Darling Downs around Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, closer to Brisbane.
But now an Independent MP, Peter Wellington, who holds the Sunshine Coast hinterland seat of Nicklin that covers Nambour, Yandina, Bli Bli, Woombye, Palmwoods and Eudlo, has sprung a surprise on the government.
He wants the Mary Valley, now largely owned by the state, also to be declared strategic farmland. Much of the valley would have been flooded by the Traveston Dam, stopped for environmental regions by the federal government in November 2009.
The Valley people are doing it tough trying to recover from their social and economic trauma and are greatly worried by the government's witholding information about what it intends to do with the land.
Most of the farmers who were forced to sell it under threat of eviction can’t afford to buy it back. Farming is seen as one of the main pursuits to rehabilitate the Valley, much of which is lying fallow and degrading to weeds.
Wellington says he hopes that when the government puts its holdings back on the market “we can make sure that that land can be used for agricultural purposes”.
He cites “scientific recognition of the good agricultural land in the Mary Valley” in the Anna Bligh government’s policy paper on protecting farmland across Queensland.
“I’m urging the government…to protect it like they’re proposing to protect the good agricultural land out from Toowoomba, protect our Mary Valley for the future,” he said in an interview with Noosa Community Radio.
“That land can be used for good agricultural purposes for a food bowl like the Lokyer and there’s no reason why it couldn’t challenge the Lokyer in the future.”
The MP wants Valley land to be “not just for dairying and grazing but really for horticulture purposes, for cropping, similar to what’s happening in the Lokyer”.
“We have a good, reliable water source in the Mary Valley and if we can ensure that the irrigation permits that originally were purchased by the government are able to return to the farmers I think that’s a great opportunity for us to create a whole new future for the Mary Valley.
“People need to make a submission by the end of September. But I believe that if people are a few days late their submissions will still be received.”
The interview can be listened to at http://www.noosacommunityradio.org/help-secure-the-mary-valley-as-a-food.... The interviewer is Mark Rodriquez.
To have your say go to the department’s website, www.derm.qld.gov.au or contact Peter Wellington on 07 5441 6933.