Over a period of 150 years the Hunter Valley of New South Wales has come to be recognised as one of the world’s foremost thoroughbred breeding grounds.
Yet, despite this position of pre-eminence, the region is now embroiled in what could be described as a “life and death” battle for survival against the state’s multi-billion dollar mining industry over land use.
The powerful New South Wales Mining Council contends that the government’s plans to protect agricultural land will have a serious impact on the state’s budget and future economic growth.
But thoroughbred breeders and other vitally interested parties are rallying support and fighting back against the mining council.
In the first of a two-part series Stallions questioned the immediate past president of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Wayne Bedggood about last month’s Martin Place rally, the importance of combining forces with other interested groups, government intentions and other matters.
Q.: Do you feel the Martin Place rally was a success
A.: Very much so. Not only was the rally a show of strength to the government across very diverse agricultural and environmental interests, who chose to show their concerns with the voice of solidarity but it was conducted with thought, reason, moderation and respect. All of this made for a very strong platform from which the rural sector’s key concerns were delivered in a very impressive way. Only someone with no regard for community opinion would choose to ignore the message delivered
Q.: Has combining forces with other Hunter Valley interest groups helped the cause
A.: Without doubt. In general, every group which has expressed concern about the massive land-use conflicts that are in play within the Hunter Valley have added credibility to the arguments for the protection of prime agricultural lands, the environment, the communities and critical, nationally important, industries. Like any single thread, when you have many groups intertwined the whole is always going to be a stronger amalgamation and that is just what happened, not only in the Hunter but state-wide
Q.: Is the State Government’s promise to protect land and water re-assuring
A.: The pre-election promises were indeed re-assuring at the time but the resulting Draft policies were far from that. The most-reassuring thing that the HTBA have heard since pre-selection were the words Andrew Stoner spoke at the end of his address to the Martin Place rally crowd which were:
“The message I want to leave you all with is this: if any proposed mining or gas extraction activity is likely to harm our prime agricultural land or other important industry clusters or the water resources associated with those areas it will not go ahead under this government.”
The government is now expected to deliver on that promise
Q.: What ideally, would the government’s course of action follow
A.: The government has attempted to address concerns raised by the rural sector and others by drafting a policy based on facts, sustainability and industry and community consultation. However, many of the facts and important assessments are still missing or under development (eg: triple bottom line assessments, understanding of the interconnectivity of water sources and a comprehension of not only industry impacts but human impacts of prolonged land use conflicts in the Upper Hunter). The problem appears to be that they are not prepared to incorporate or commit to what they have heard, from those on the land. Admittedly, the government has not got all the data they should have which may be because of a rushed process but there are alarming and conspicuous
deficits in the primary role of the SRLUP with regard to Strategic Agricultural Land (and its associated water) protection. There has been a substantial beneficial consultation at several levels for the government to make an informed and productive policy. But they do not seem to have taken the whole picture into account and it would appear that too much emphasis has been placed on protecting the right of the resource prospector, which is the very thing that has led to the most undesirable set of circumstances that we now find ourselves in now
Q.: Has the Martin Place rally helped alleviate HTBA’s concerns
A.: The rally has alleviated nothing but our desire to let the government know that we are now many, all like-minded and with steely resolve. The government must realise now that we will not lie down quietly while the very land that is our life’s blood is destroyed, in most cases beyond repair.
Q.: Do you feel the government now fully appreciates the importance of the situation
That will only be verified with the fullness of time and a positive result for us in the way that the final policies relating to land use are written
It is more than two years ago now that thoroughbred breeders in the Hunter Valley became involved in a battle for survival against the state’s mining industry.
A report commissioned by the powerful New South Wales Mining Council estimates that plans to protect agricultural land will result in a $1 billion revenue loss in mining royalties for the state government over 20 years.
It is against this contention that breeders, other land users and environmentalists have combined forces in a concerted attempt to ensure the O’Farrell government fully appreciates the importance that agricultural and associated interests have for the economy.
In the second of a two-part series Stallions questioned the immediate past president of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Wayne Bedggood about whether investment is being affected, HTBA funding, the committee’s make up and other matters.
Q.: Is the indecision over land use still having an impact on investment in the Hunter
A.: There is no doubt that the indecision still hanging over everyone’s head is having an impact on investment. In our own industry I know of several of the bigger players who are making contingency plans or actually contemplating moving to “safer” areas. This leads to concerns for those around them and those who supply them, so you get a roll-on effect of uncertainty leading to fear and trepidation about what may lie ahead. Try to find an investor who will buy out or start a new vineyard in the Upper Hunter region; it is simply not going to happen just as there are already areas that once carried thoroughbreds that will never be used for carrying them again. The perception of high risk to an investment is never going to encourage that investor to that high risk area. In terms of investment certainty, it is worth noting that the entire state of New South Wales is covered by either exploration or mining licenses or petroleum export licenses – including Sydney’s water catchment.
Q.: Have there been any theories on the government’s failure to implement new laws
A.: There are many theories but only the policy makers know the real reasons for the decisions that they do and do not make.
Q.: Were the hopes that the new government would be more decisive
A.: Certainly, but let me add that they have been many more times productive than their predecessors and are, at least, trying to remedy many facets of an abhorrent legacy.
Q.: What is the HTBA’s feeling about the make up of the pending appointment of a Mining and Coal Seam Gas panel of experts
A.: As long as the scientists and experts that are selected are truly independent and worthy of the title “expert” then we would applaud the decision to have such a panel. It was in fact one of the key points in our “10 Point Plan” submitted to the government
Q.: When did lobbying for an answer to Hunter land use begin
A.: In the HTBA’s case we started in earnest two years ago
Q.: Is further action planned by the HTBA
A.: Yes, plans are to keep on campaigning just as strongly, if not more so, until we get results that we and many others are looking for. For example, we will be advocating our cause directly with Members of Parliament and key decision makers as well as rallying support wherever and whenever we can. This includes calling for a Special Commission of Inquiry as a second Exploration Licence is referred by the N.S.W. Government to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Q.: Who provides the funding for HTBA
A.: Funds come from the whole range of industry participants, industry patrons, suppliers and our members.
Q.: What is the make up of the committee
A.: The Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association board comprises representatives from of Australia’s most influential and historic thoroughbred breeding stud farms. The new president is Dr. Cameron Collins, who is managing director of the Scone Equine Hospital. The HTBA committee is, Jon Freyer (bloodstock manager, Arrowfield), Tom Magnier (business and racing manager Coolmore Australia), Mike Thew (principal, Crowning Stone), Andrew Wiles (director, Darley Australia), Trevor Lobb (chief executive officer, Emirates Park), John Sunderland (principal, Eire Bloodstock), Nick Hodges (manager, Riversdale Farm), Peter Orton (general manager, Vinery Stud), Antony Thompson (principal, Widden Stud), Arthur Mitchell (director, Yarraman Park Stud) and myself. The composition of the board reflects the depth of commitment and our determination to protect our industry and retain New South Wales, in particular the Hunter Valley, as one of only a few premier breeding regions in the world. We are a resilient industry. We have faced significant challenges in the recent past – such as equine influenza and the global financial crisis but we are very determined to stay here for the long-term. We have shown the world that elite thoroughbreds are born and raised in Australia, the majority of them right here in the Hunter Valley. The most significant challenge now is to protect our world renowned industry, one of three centres of thoroughbred breeding excellence in the world, from being displaced by an ever-growing resource sector in the Hunter Valley.
Q.: On a personal note how long have you been involved
A.: I have been a member of the HTBA for over 20 years and was president for the four years to May 17.