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Anti-gas activist takes company to ASIC

Threatened with legal action: Gasfield Free Northern Rivers' Michael Qualmann

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers’ Michael Qualman has lodged a complaint with ASIC over statements made by unconventional gas explorer Metgasco.

Chris Dobney

Northern rivers resident Michael Qualman has launched a complaint with ASIC over claims by gas explorer Metgasco that it enjoys a high level of support for its activity in the region and that activism has not materially impacted on its business.

Mr Qualman accuses the company and CEO Peter Henderson of ‘misleading and deceptive communications to the stock exchange’ and ‘ongoing breach of its continuous disclosure obligations under both the ASX listing rules and the Corporations law’.

In his letter outlining the complaint, Mr Qualman says, ‘the matter revolves around ongoing failure by Metgasco to provide the market with accurate information regarding the level of community opposition to its gas field development proposals in the northern rivers’.

‘The issue of public opposition is material and relevant due to the fact that Metgasco is almost entirely reliant on eventual access to gas reserves situated in the northern rivers for the viability of the company,’ the letter continues.

‘Very reliable and robust data is available to Metgasco quantifying community opposition/support could and should be shared by Metgasco with the market.

‘However, Metgasco continues to suppress any mention of the full range of data, and continues to rely on a single push poll of highly questionable veracity in their disclosures.’

In February, Mr Qualman was himself the target of a complaint to ASIC by Metgasco, after he wrote letters to some Metgasco shareholders saying that the company had been understating the scale of public opposition and that the regional community was well organised and had undertaken training in non-violent direct action.

The company also accused Mr Qualman of unauthorised access to its shareholder records, an allegation he denies, saying he wrote to just 21 of the largest shareholders, all of whose names were available for public scrutiny in the company’s annual report.

Push poll quoted

The dispute around the figures arises because of three existing sources of data for assessing the scale of local opposition to the industry. One is the Lismore council poll in 2012, another is university research conducted in November 2013 and the third is a small push poll survey conducted by the Richmond Valley Council.

In a media release issued by Metgasco at the time, the company denied that more than of 90 per cent of local people were opposed to gas exploration (based on the other two surveys) relying instead on the 2012 Richmond Valley Council’s push-poll, which found that 70 per cent supported gas mining ‘provided that it was safe and environmentally sound’.

According to Mr Qualman, ‘it’s very hard for Metgasco to get out of this one, as the AEC and university data is clear and to continue to ignore it in favour of a very dodgy push poll is misleading, even if it’s technically true that the push poll produced the figure quoted.

‘The reason why the law focuses upon “misleading” rather than “untrue” is because it is about the impression created rather than whether the statement is merely technically supportable,’ he said.

‘By continually failing to mention the more reliable data to the market Metgasco may be creating a false impression that they have adequate community support,’ he added

Impact of activism

Metgasco also disputed Mr Qualman’s claims that anti-gas activists were hurting the company’s prospects, saying it paused its activity in the northern rivers entirely due to concerns about changes in government policy.

But two letters sent to five state government ministers last year by Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson, which were released to the media this week, would appear to disprove that claim.

In the first letter, dated January 23 2013, Mr Henderson wrote, ‘exploration activity of all kinds will come to a stop in NSW if companies who have valid and government-approved work programs can have their legitimate activities sabotaged by activists who see themselves as being above the law’.

‘We request your support not only through police action but also through mandatory sentencing of those who are found guilty of breaking the law.’

Again on February 6, Mr Henderson wrote to the ministers, including then energy minister Chris Hartcher (who is currently being investigated by ICAC), planning minister Brad Hazzard, police minister Michael Gallacher and attorney-general Greg Smith.

In this second letter Mr Henderson requested ‘a permanent police presence at our northern rivers drilling sites…’

In concluding this letter he wrote, ‘the consequences of Metgasco having to suspend its current operation in response to a small, unruly opposition group would be devastating to resource development and energy supply in NSW.’

The revelations come despite Metgasco having said in its ASX release attacking Mr Qualman that protest actions did not substantially disrupt their operations.

‘Metgasco cannot have it both ways,’ Mr Qulaman said.

‘They can’t say one thing in private to the government and another in public to the share market. They have clear duties of disclosure on these matters, they are required by law to tell investors the full story.’


8 responses to “Anti-gas activist takes company to ASIC”

  1. Yellow says:

    “saying it paused its activity in the northern rivers entirely due to concerns about changes in government policy.”

    This was a brilliant move on their part. Few days before they had a “pump and dumb” article published about how cheap their shares were. Then major shareholders were notified, insider trades done, then government announcement blamed, with forewarning. They managed to perpetrate a massive stock-market fraud while hiding all the number movements under the cloud of a government announcement. Brilliant move, much money made. ASIC were looking but had nothing to hook onto.

  2. Barbara Thomas says:

    Good on you, Michael Qualman for standing up against Metgasco in this clever way. If we all keep going in opposition of CSG mining, and initially Metgasco, we can surely stop it!!

  3. carol gilmore says:

    Well I don’t know but when Henderson says, “We request your support not only through police action but also through mandatory sentencing of those who are found guilty of breaking the law.’ and then requests ‘a permanent police presence at our northern rivers drilling sites…’ one would certainly get the impression that Metgasco and their presence is rather unwelcome in the Northern Rivers. It would also seem somewhat of an over-reaction to ‘a small unruly opposition group’. Man up Peter, it’s over son.

    I’d like to buy Michael Qualman a beer.

  4. Aletha Zylstra says:

    Here here Carol! I can’t help wondering how our local police are supposed to provide a permanent police presence? They have limited numbers and could only do so by calling in reinforcement from neighboring shires. In an emergency this is okay – but permanently? It would only undermine (excuse the pun) their capacity to undertake their regular law enforcement duties in those areas for an indefinite period – all in the interests of protecting the activities of a mining company WITH NO SOCIAL LICENSE.

  5. The article cites 3 sources of data/figures about community opinion about CSG in the Northern Rivers.

    There is a fourth.

    It is the responses to community based road surveys as part of the Gasfield Free Communities initiative.

    This surveying of residents along rods in local communities has been undertaken across many Northern Rivers communities with results averaging about 95% opposed to CSG development in their local area.

    These results explain the strong support for local community organised blockades against Metgasco’s efforts to impose their vision on our communities.

    Residents will continue to oppose the imposition of industrialised gasfields on their communities.

    The level of opposition and the related “social movement risk” is relevant information that Metgasco should be providing to shareholders, the ASX and potential investors.

    Michael McNamara
    Lock The Tweed

  6. Bulldog says:

    You & me both Carol (The Beer.) I think what henderson says depends on whose listening, morally, ethically they can’t really continue but of course they do, It just shows it’s going to be a long fight to protect the aquifers, our environment as opposed to the almighty dollar. The irony of all this is that none of the gas is to be supplied to NSW or any other Australian area is all to be sold to south east Asia…………………..

  7. Julie McNamara says:

    Well, looks like the cats out of the bag for Hendo and CSG is in the poop.
    Weasel words just don’t stand up to investigation.
    I for 1 am proud to be associated with this small unruly group of extremists and I am nearly 60 and have never broken the law, .
    I am proud to be one of the 7,000 people who marched against in Lismore and proud that I organised a march in M’bah where 5,000 people stood up against CSG.
    A radical extremist? Hardly, I am just a fat old duck protecting what I love AUSTRALIA especially where I live in the Northern Rivers

  8. Eddy says:

    More pressure needs to be put on the major political parties (Liberals, Nationals and Labor) to change their policies supporting Unconventional Gas and Fracking clearly against the the wishes of the vast majority of voters.
    Labor now has a policy of a Morotorium on Unconventional Gas and Fracking but only until the Science says it is safe. It is never safe to inject coal seams and sand deposits holding gas with dangerous chemicals like Uranium and to do so next to aquifers. We only know CSG companies use Uranium because some leaked into an aquifer at Piliga though in the USA these companies have admitted using depleted Uranium in the Fracking Process. And there are lots of other nasties too.
    Join your local party of choice and force a change to party policies to ban fracking forever. Also we must sequester a percentage of our conventional Gas and other resources for local use at cost of extraction plus a fair margin for profit. A tender process would be the ideal solution. These resources are not owned by Metgasco, Santos, BHP or whatever corporation. They are owned by the people of Australia and should be available for our use at the minimum cost.

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