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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Thomas George ignores constituents at his peril

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Many conservative country folk joined Saturday’s rally against CSG in Murwillumbah. Photo Jeff Dawson

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.

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  1. The question remains as to why the electorate voted again for Boy George at the last election. Old National’Party leaders Mark Vaille and John Anderson were instrumental in initiating coal seam gas projects and everyone must have known this.

  2. I continue to be gobsmacked by the audacity and arrogance displayed by the CSG industry and their political backers. It is clear to all that the main driver behind the industry and the government support is $$’s, pure and simple. The NSW Govt Ministers who predict that the industry is “coming” and we “need to get used to it” have grossly underrated the resolve of the community which they are meant to serve. They may well find that their arrogance and disconnection is rewarded by being swept from office at the next election!

  3. I heard the conversation with Thomas George on ABC Local radio. I was flabbergasted when I heard that he had not been up north to see what is headed our way. I am an individual who paid for my own trip to go up north and talked to about 20 landowners amongst the CSG fields of Tara, Chinchilla, and Wandoan, and I can tell you what they are facing – devastation of their land, water and health. The stories they told were gut-wrenching, they don’t sleep well because they don’t know what to do about the inundation of mining companies on and around their lands.


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