Richmond Valley at its December general meeting last night ‘snuck through’ an unannounced positioning statement on coal-seam gas, according to a key council-watcher.
The statement opens by saying that ‘The Richmond Valley Council accepts that coal-seam gas mining is happening in the local government area, will continue to happen and that this activity will increase over time and a workable collaboration is necessary’.
It continues, ‘all parties in the debate need to work together and learn to trust each other to achieve a balance of outcomes that are positive, based on fact and the best available science’.
It then goes on to outline a number of specific actions it recommends be taken – most of which it is calling on the state government and gas companies to do.
The statement was introduced by way of a mayoral minute, which was moved by mayor Ernie Bennett, seconded by Cr Col Sullivan and passed unanimously in the absence of Cr Sandra Duncan-Humphries.
Dr Richard Gates, president of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome, who attended the meeting to address council on another issue, said that ‘the way in which the mayoral minute was introduced at the meeting showed “a complete lack of respect for the community”.
‘The minute was passed out at the meeting after the public-access period had finished and was not available to the public when it came into the meeting.’
Dr Gates went on to say, ‘it would appear that the mayoral minute was prepared well ahead of time and that the last-minute introduction was a deliberate strategy to keep the community in the dark so that those opposed to coal-seam gas would not have the opportunity during public access to speak against the “positioning statement” before it was accepted at the council meeting.
But mayor Bennett said the positioning statement was not set in stone, adding that it would now be put out for community consultation and would be reconsidered in six months’ time.
‘This is out there for the community now to give Council constructive feedback,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
‘If information comes forward, for us to be concerned about it, we will have a look at it.’
Cr Bennett added that he didn’t think it was too late for the CSG industry and its opponents to develop trust in one another.
Dr Gates said it was ironic that in his address to Council’s public access yesterday he had raised the CSG matter as an example of how Council had failed to consult with the community in development of its Community Strategic Plan.
‘Council went on to demonstrate my point beautifully by adopting a policy on CSG without public consultation.
‘It is very clear that Richmond Valley Council has failed to meet its obligations to the community under its own charter. Council has an obligation to manage the environment of the area that is “consistent with and promotes the principles of ecologically sustainable development [ESD]”.
‘The positioning paper violates the precautionary principle, one of the principles of ESD.’
The paper’s key point in relation to CSG-free activists is a call for them ‘to work with all parties to find solutions to issues and a means of cohabitation rather than blanket opposition [to coal-seam gas]’.
The document does also find fault with Metgasco’s position to date, calling on the company to: ‘generally improve their professionalism and expertise to industry best practice; urgently complete and publish their plans for water treatment and disposal; always work co-operatively with landowners regarding access; minimise impacts on agricultural land; be transparent in all its dealings with the community; fully fund improvements, restoration and maintenance of affected land; and ensure fair compensation is offered to landholders’.
The document, which Council intends to be circulated ‘as widely as possible’, also calls for the state government to: ensure adequate baseline assessments; introduce a Royalties for Regions program; base a government inspector in Casino to enforce monitoring; set standards of performance for miners; and allow Council to levy rates and charges on mining operations.