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Gasfields Land & Water Commission

A new "independent" government authority the Gasfields Land & Water Commission was established in 2012 to oversee the new coal seam gas industry in Queensland at the suggestion of deputy Premier Jeff Seeney.

"Queensland had successfully managed to balance the interests of farmers, gas companies and local communities, partly through the Gasfields Commission" the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association APPEA's chief operating officer Paul Fennelly said in November 2013.

John Cotter was appointed chairman of the new Gasfields Land and Water Commission in July 2012. Queensland deputy premier Jeff Seeney said: "The Commission is designed to repair the damaged relationships between CSG companies and the community, and restore community trust in the gas industry."

Mr Cotter, former president of AgForce Queensland (a peak organisation representing rural producers) was criticised by farmers and environmentalists for failing to issue any press releases or warn farmers about what was being unleashed on them by the coal seam gas industry. Mr Cotter was AgForce president from 2006 until 2010.

In September 2010, Brent Finlay replaced Mr Cotter as president of AgForce. One month after Mr Cotter's replacement, the new AgForce president called on the Queensland Government to issue a moratorium on coal seam gas.

"For too long, the coal seam gas extraction industry has gone largely unchecked with no responsibility taken for the impact on water and the vital industry of agriculture. The moratorium is about protecting land and water to secure sustainable food and fibre into perpetuity in the face of the ‘hit and run’ resource industry,” Mr Finlay said.

The Gasfields Land and Water Commission website states 'former AgForce President, Mr Cotter successfully represented and negotiated the rights of rural property owners through challenging times'.

However, Mr Cotter appears not to have done any community consultation with farmers and affected communities until after he left AgForce when the first Surat Basin CSG Engagement group meeting was held in Dalby in April 2011. 

Indeed, the Gasfields website displays Mr Cotter's profile with the following: 'he has also brought CSG company senior executives, landholders, government and advocacy groups to the same table and chaired open and frank discussions on co-existence issues for the former Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group'. 

Farmers dispute Mr Cotter's claim that, as chair of the Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group, he had resolved 'issues of ground water, land access, confidentiality and compensation'.

The Gasfields Land and Water Commission took over the responsibilities of the former Queensland Water Commission, which ceased operation on 1 January 2013. There are no groundwater or river management representatives as commissioners in the organisation that replaced it.

Mr Cotter's son, also named John, now runs The Flinders group, a land access and acquisitions consultancy company which negotiates land access agreements with farmers for coal seam gas company QGC.

Flinders Group's website states that they are 'the national leader in land access. We have established the Land Access Advisory Board to provide advice and guidance to clients, practitioners and government' and 'focus is on strategically reviewing the State Governments’ single land access code'. 

“As one of the largest providers of land access services in Queensland, we see the impact of this social licence as a vital issue in 2012,” John Cotter Jr posted on the company's website.

"The new independent Land Access Advisory Board would be vital to our clients within the infrastructure and resource industries in providing clarity on future complex land access works."

Mr Cotter Sr confirmed his son’s company, previously named PAD Partners, had provided the planning and helped get the approval for a controversial 499-head feedlot on Mr Cotter Sr’s family grazing property, adding that he thought PAD Partners 'had nothing to do with Flinders'.

Lock The Gate Alliance president and Australian Environmentalist of the Year 2013, Drew Hutton, called on Qld Premier Campbell Newman to remove Mr Cotter as Gasfields Commission Chairman, saying: "I just think the choice of John Cotter is a most appalling, short-sighted decision by government."  

"The last thing people expected was for them to appoint someone who has a very close relative who does business with the coal seam gas industry," Mr Hutton said.

On 18 November 2013, Brett Finlay, one of the first to speak out expressing farmer's concerns about coal seam gas, was elected President of the National Farmer's Association.

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