Chris Dobney, Editor
Yesterday morning ABC radio’s first local news bulletin of the week opened with Lismore MP Thomas George’s comments on the weekend’s Rock the Gate rally in Murwillumbah.
It was a curious choice, given that 4,000 people attended the rally (including some ABC journalists) and not one of them was interviewed for the news item.
Even curiouser were the conclusions the MP drew about a rally of people who were overwhelmingly his constituents that he hadn’t felt the need to attend.
Mr George has a track record of waving away CSG protesters, even when they turn up to his office, even when they clutch their torn-up National Party memberships.
But the conclusion he drew on this occasion was so gobsmackingly out of step with reality as to demand comment. Opponents of unconventional gas mining must, he decided, be lacking in information. He would bring ‘experts’ to the area who would change all that.
Re-education camps, anyone?
Seriously, Saturday’s event was packed with experts and people who have experienced the effects of CSG up close and personal. But Mr George didn’t want to hear from them.
It will be interesting to see what ‘independent’ experts he can come up with to counter their overwhelming evidence.
The fact is, there is absolutely nothing independent about Mr George’s attachment to CSG mining. His government has gone to great lengths, despite an elaborate pantomime of nebulous regulation, to open NSW to business – coal-seam gas business.
Resources minister Chris Hartcher said as much to an audience of miners at last week’s APPEA conference, and planning minister Brad Hazzard told Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell that north coast folks should ‘get used to it’.
North coast minister Don Page has also sought some wriggle room on the issue, saying that NSW needed the gas, even though all the evidence points to it being an export business.
Sure, Metgasco got their initial production licence on the back of an already-approved 30MW power station for the region, passed by the previous ALP government under its contentious part 3A planning law. But no sooner was the ink dry on the production licence than Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson was out there hosing down speculation about the power station, suggesting it might be for peak-load only, rather than base-load generation, and could be as little as 2–3MW.
So what, pray tell, is happening to the rest (read majority) of the gas?
Well the latest thing to be mooted is a pipeline direct to Ballina, complete with a port for gas ships similar to what Queensland has established at Gladstone.
No doubt more constituents will be wearing out the pavement in front of Mr Page’s Ballina office over that one.
But back to Mr George. What could possibly persuade him that he is right and so many of his constituents are wrong?
Certainly party politics plays its own part. Ever since the demise of dairy subsidies the Nationals have played second fiddle to the Libs in government. In this parliament, even the Shooters Party can drive a harder bargain.
But neither should it be forgotten that Thomas’s son Stuart, who until this year’s election sat on Richmond Valley Council, works for Metgasco.
We readily admit this doesn’t constitute a personal or pecuniary conflict of interests, but blood as they say is thicker than water – even CSG wastewater.
Wastewater which, incidentally, the RVC illegally approved for disposal in its sewerage system during the tenure of his son on the council.
That the EPA subsequently changed its mind and approved future dumping doesn’t make the picture any clearer.
Some independent opinion would indeed be welcome in this debate but not, I suspect, the sort Mr George is proposing.
An independent body of experts with Royal Commission-like powers to investigate the claims and counter-claims, as was proposed at Saturday’s rally, might be just the circuit-breaker that this issue requires if it is to be resolved without breaking apart local communities.
One thing’s for certain: it won’t be lost on many of Mr George’s Lismore-based constituents that their mayor has better form on this issue than the one person who has the potential to do something about it, their state member.