Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has moved to reassure residents of New England about the impact of mining on key agricultural land amid reports an Australian miner will explore for gas in the Liverpool plains.
Fossil fuel giant Santos has lodged an application with the NSW government to explore gas in "PEL 1", a petroleum exploration license that covers an area south of Gunnedah, Fairfax reports, placing it in prime agricultural land and amid the bastion of fierce community resistance to CSG.
Joyce, who is also Nationals Leader and Agriculture Minister, last year opposed a massive Chinese-owned mine in the same region and is appearing in Tamworth on tonight's ABC's Q&A alongside former local MP Tony Windsor.
Joyce is facing a fierce battle to retain the seat in the face of opposition from Windsor who's making a comeback after retiring in 2013.
Asked if he would stop mining projects in the region if he could, Joyce said he wanted to protect the region.
"I have said quite clearly and I have said the same things 2009, that you shouldn't have mining on prime agricultural land," Joyce said.
"I have made my task to do whatever is within my power to assist and if we just look at the facts, of course ... it was the Labor Party that gave out the mining leases on the Liverpool plains."
Joyce told the audience that the federal government was often constrained in acting to prevent mining on agricultural land because it was a state issue.
But Windsor said the Commonwealth could act if it really wanted to.
"The federal government can stop those developments," he said.
"There is a process that can, in fact, work, and it's an objective process. Both
Minister Joyce and Minister (Greg) Hunt have been complicit by neglect in terms of this particular issue."
The Q&A program has also covered other issues of particular interest to those in rural areas like access to health care, national broadband and whether those in regional Australia will potentially abandon the major parties at the election.