State coalition minister and Byron Bay resident, Don Page, has come under fire for refusing to back a 12,000 strong petition calling for a north coast moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG).
Mr Page, who is the minister for the north coast, instead went on the offensive in parliament to attack the area’s two federal Labor MPs and members of the public opposed to CSG mining.
The widely anticipated petition was tabled in parliament last week after it reached 10,000 signatures.
It follows widespread opposition to CSG by communities throughout the north coast, including many declarations by towns and local councils against the industry taking a foothold.
Protests against CSG continued last week with residents from Lismore and Richmond Valley rallying outside local miner Metgasco’s offices and drill sites.
In his defence for dismissing the petition, Mr Page told parliament that the two federal Labor MPs earlier this year had conducted anti-CSG surveys in north coast towns, despite his government having ‘already banned CSG activity in all NSW residential areas and in a two-kilometre buffer zone surrounding every residential area’.
However, some north coast councils have recently criticised the exclusion of several villages and other rural housing clusters from those buffer zones.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot hit back saying ‘when it comes to CSG mining there’s no middle ground, you either stand with the community and oppose it, or you stand with the CSG companies and support it’.
Mrs Elliot was scathing of the minister and his party, saying ‘the Nationals have betrayed the people of the north coast in supporting CSG mining’.
She is also challenging CSG companies, saying if there are no coal seam reserves in her electorate, they should return their exploration licences.
Her National Party opponent in the election campaign, Matthew Fraser, and his party colleagues have claimed it was a non-issue, because there was no coal seam gas in the electorate.
Ms Elliot said if that’s the case, the licence holders should hand them back.
‘It’s the biggest load of rubbish I have heard, and we hear a lot of that.’
Licences cover region
‘We know that PEL (petroleum exploration licence) 445 extends virtually right across the Federal electorate of Richmond,’ she told the ABC.
‘It also is very close to the water supply for the Tweed at the Clarrie Hall Dam.
‘If they think there’s no coal seam gas mining here, give it back tomorrow.’
And Greens NSW MP John Kaye has challenged Mr Page’s ‘sustainable credentials and vision’ for the Ballina electorate.
Dr Kaye said Mr Page boasts on his webpage that his vision for the electorate is ‘to create a sustainable future for the whole community’.
‘The challenge for Mr Page is to show he is serious about the environment and local jobs by supporting our push for 100 per cent renewable NSW.
‘Starting the transition now means that regional NSW can get ahead of the global competition and become leaders in clean energy solutions,’ Dr Kaye said.
‘Clean energy alternatives will make CSG irrelevant,’ he said.
When asked if he supports Dr Kaye’s 100 per cent renewable push, Mr Page said he stood by his ‘long-standing commitment to renewable energy’.
‘Indeed I was a keynote speaker at a conference in Bangalow a few years ago, specifically on the importance of renewable energy to our future,’ he said.
‘My views are accurately stated on my website. Clearly it will take some time to transition to a 100 per cent renewables situation given both the Commonwealth and state objectives are to get to 20 per cent by 2020.
‘I would like to see the Ballina electorate better those targets which is entirely possible given our interest in renewables, the employment opportunities associated with such a focus and not to mention the abundance of sunshine. I think our area can be a leader in renewables,’ Mr Page said.
The challenge follows the cancellation last week of a proposed high-voltage transmission line from Tenterfield to Lismore.
The abandonment of the $250 million Bonshaw line, once dubbed ‘essential’ by electricity network provider TransGrid, is a victory for grassroots campaigning and follows on the heels of the cancellation of a similar line on the mid-north coast in April.
And while Mr Page didn’t name MPs Mrs Elliot and Janelle Saffin (Page) in parliament over the petition, he said ‘it was a shameless electioneering tactic, initiated by two Labor federal members on the northern rivers in a desperate attempt to boost their chances in the recent federal elections’.
‘They stood in main streets gathering signatures and spreading alarm about coal seam gas, scaremongering to try to save their seats, in the full knowledge that coal seam gas companies had walked away from the north coast months before because our rules are so tough,’ Mr Page said.
When asked by Echonetdaily to clarify that statement, given Metgasco are planning to restart drilling near Casino, he said ‘Metgasco have sealed all their CSG exploration wells and only have an interest in conventional natural gas’.
But he did not explain what he meant by ‘conventional’ gas.
Mr Page also dismissed the petition’s request to exempt the north coast from mining, saying ‘it is not good public policy to discriminate either for or against any particular geographic area of the state, no matter how close to paradise that part of the world might be.
‘This government has established sensible protection for communities, farmland, water resources and the environment on behalf of the people of NSW, now and for future generations.
‘The government’s role is not to advocate on behalf of mining companies, but to have the regulatory framework that protects our land and water resources and our environment – something that Labor never did.’
During the debate, Lismore MP Thomas George also went on the attack, accusing former Page MP Janelle Saffin of allowing mining expansion when in office. ‘She was a member of the Legislative Council when the licences were issued for the northern rivers. They took the money and ran.’
Surprisingly Mr George then stated his support for fossil fuel expansion. ‘If we do not produce the extra energy needed in this state, especially in the northern rivers, major businesses such as the Northern Co-operative Meat Company will pack up and move over the border. They cannot survive without cheaper energy.’
Meanwhile, Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson said ‘jobs in roof top solar, agricultural-waste gas, energy efficiency and demand management could kick-start a new kind of economic growth for Ballina, that can begin with the local market and expand into almost unlimited export opportunities.
‘The old arguments about the ability of renewable energy to power the state and the cost of the technology are now over’, said Cr Johnson.
‘Studies from the Universities of NSW and Melbourne and from the operators of the national grid show that 100 per cent renewable electricity is now entirely possible.’
Dr Kaye will be at the Ballina RSL Club on Wednesday, November 6, from 5.30pm to promote the Greens’ 100 per cent Renewable NSW campaign.
Additionally he will make his presentation at the Mullum Civic Centre on Thursday, November 7, from 6pm.