25 September 2012 — Hunter Valley tourism operators fear coal seam gas mining will turn tourists away from the popular region.

Hunter Valley Protection Alliance spokesman Stewart Ewen said a new and final report released by the Visitor Economy Taskforce, established by the NSW Government in June 2011, had found the protection of key tourism precincts from encroaching development was imperative to achieve the target of doubling overnight visitor expenditure to NSW by 2020.

Mr Ewen said despite the findings, which highlighted the need to safeguard high yielding wine and tourism precincts like the Hunter Valley, government policies including the recently released Strategic Agricultural Land Use Plan and Gateway concept to review and grant coal seam gas mining licences were at direct odds.

“On one hand the government is seeking ways to grow state revenue from tourism, yet with the other it is doing next to nothing to protect the very regions that can best deliver these returns,” he said.

Tourism in NSW contributes $11.1 billion to the state’s gross state product with the Hunter Valley the state’s second most popular tourism destination behind Sydney attracting more than 3 million visitors each year.

Mr Ewen said it was unlikely that tourist numbers would rise “if the mining companies had their way and picturesque vineyards, quaint restaurants, historic cellar doors and boutique accommodation are located adjacent to a checkerboard of unsightly coal seam gas wells, waste dumps and high machinery yards”.

A recent visitor survey in the Hunter Valley found that 30 per cent of visitors would seek wine and food experiences elsewhere if CSG mining started in the region.

Mr Ewen said that was “a bitter pill to swallow” given tourism was a sustainable industry that could exist virtually forever while CSG mines had a life span of only 10 to 15 years.

The alliance, which had a broad base including vignerons, farmers, individuals, environmentalists and thoroughbred breeders, would  “think about the next move”, he said.

“We are all reviewing what we will do because what we have now won’t work logically,” he said.

Mr Ewen said the NSW State Government was not showing leadership and it was clear the influence the mining companies and their revenue had on its decisions.

“When the Gateway concept was brought in it was not accepted by anyone. From a winery point of view we said we wanted an independent umpire (but now) the government is the judge, jury and benefactor.

“And most importantly when the Gateway idea was first put out, projects were going to be either waved through or waved away.

“Now they are being waved through or conditionally waved through.”

Mr Ewen said it was disappointing that NSW was the only state in Australia which did not offer protection to iconic areas, like the Hunter Valley, from mining development.

“We have been fighting this for six years and spent the past 18 months working on this strategy – it’s frustrating to be in this difficult position,” he said.

Mr Ewen said the area had also been hit by dust pollution from late night and early morning mining activities at levels six times that endorsed by the World Health Organisation.

“It’s been absolutely horrific.”