Blockades and peaceful disobedience, which have so far succeeded in stopping multinational mining companies drilling for coal-seam gas (CSG) around Australia, will be used to lock the industry out of the northern rivers and other areas.
A huge protest rally/march of more than 4,000 people in Murwillumbah on Saturday was told by the head of the national anti-CSG movement the effective tactic would be used against the mining companies to ‘send them packing’.
The head of the mass march almost met its tail as it wound around the town’s main CBD block, views soon to be beamed to over 30 million viewers around the world by the Al Jazeera network, which joined a big media contingent covering the event.
Lock the Gate president Drew Hutton told the rally at the showground that it was now time to ‘block the gate’, as all appeals and warnings to government over the massive dangers CSG mining posed to agricultural land and water supplies, people and the environment had fallen on deaf ears.
Mr Hutton said the ‘bottom feeders of the fossil-fuel industry’ (CSG miners) and their government backers were ‘quite happy to put our environment, our people, our landscapes, our cultural heritage, all those things at risk just for a buck’.
But he said people, including conservative communities, were fighting back and blockades had already stopped companies drilling in Tara, southeast Queensland, for the past four years; at Kerry near the Border Ranges, where 15 people arrested; and other places in NSW.
He said the tactic had worked on sending companies such as one of the world’s biggest miners, Arrow Energy, ‘packing’.
Arrow Energy has a lease covering many parts of Tweed, Byron, Kyogle and Lismore shires.
He said ‘peaceful non-cooperation and peaceful disobedience – you put them together and it works, because it re-empowers the community, and that’s the key’.
In a press conference later, Mr Hutton said the strategy by the NSW government to try to silence protests was ‘to say it’s going to happen so you may as well roll over’.
He was referring to a offhand comment by NSW planning minister Brad Hazzard to Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell recently in which the minister said CSG mining was ‘going to happen anyway’.
Mr Hutton said the government has handed over its rights to the gas-mining companies and has called on it to tighten its policy on gas exploration and production in environmentally sensitive areas like the northern rivers.
‘In Queensland, we’ve seen them proceed without the proper underground water assessments, and we’re going to see the same thing here in NSW.
‘They [gas mining companies] depended on the fact that there are no baseline studies out there on water quality, on air quality, to measure how things have changed since they began their activities.
‘We are calling for adequate, independent, scientific study, not the gas-mining companies telling us how it is.
‘We have a biodiversity hotspot up here; we have national parks, agricultural and tourism industries, and eco tourism; why are we going to put them at risk, under a minister who has demonstrated he is not impartial in this and wants to push the gas industry ahead.’
Sam McLean, the national director of GetUp!, a social-activist organisation with hundreds of thousands of supporters, told the rally the anti-CSG movement was the ‘most powerful coalition in the country right now’ and would win the campaign through intense lobbying of politicians and using the power of their vote.
North-coast-based singer-songwriter Natalie Pa’Apa’a, who performed several songs at the rally, told the crowd the ‘relentless mining boom’ should not be allowed to the ‘country’s best land and water supplies’.
Brian Monk, from southeast Queensland, where CSG mining is well established, said his grandchildren had suffered health complications, including nose and ear bleeds, headaches and skin irritations in the past few years since the industry moved in.
In a passionate speech, Aboriginal elder Kevin Bootha said when mining industry first started in Australia, Aborigines were accused of being ‘lazy black fellas’.
‘Well, we couldn’t be lazy, it’s just that we held our lands are sacred, we could not even scratch it with a hoe,’ he said.
‘We do not want coal-seam gas, we do not want mining through our tribal lands full stop. We don’t want any of it, we want our waters here so that our young can go and hunt their traditional food another 50 years down the track; we don’t want out waters poisoned for any man.’
Eight-year-old Carlyrose Watson, from Banora Point, read out a speech she wrote for school about the first anti-CSG rally she attended in Lismore recently, which taught her ‘a lot’.
‘Many people don’t realise that coal-seam gas extraction is very damaging to our precious land and waterways. We need good land for agriculture and clean water is vital, not only for our future, but for future generations. Not only do people suffer, but also native animals that rely on a healthy environment,’ Carlyrose said.
‘But government and businesspeople only look at the dollar signs and do not consider the long-term consequences.
‘How would you feel about somebody poisoning your food and your drinking water? I don’t think any amount of money is worth that sort of damage to our environment,’ she said.
The rally, one of several around the country, kicked off a national week of action against CSG. It included messages beamed on a large video screen from former Greens leader Bob Brown and environmental singer-songwriter John Butler, as well as an afternoon concert.
Event organiser Amanda Shoebridge said the Lock the Gate movement was growing fast with more than 170 Lock the Gate groups in every state and territory.
‘If the government continues to ignore their constituents, very soon this movement will have the numbers and support to ensure we vote in a government who will listen,’ Ms Shoebridge said.