The Tweed-Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council will continue to oppose exploration and mining of coal-seam gas (CSG) in the northern rivers, but has left the door open to prospecting for minerals and other resources.
Last week’s announcement by Dart Energy, which held one of the largest petroleum exploration licences for the north coast covering much of Tweed and Byron, came three weeks after the other major CSG player in the area, Metgasco, mothballed its plans to explore for CSG.
Both companies blamed political uncertainty, sparked by widespread community opposition, for their exit.
That left the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC), which has applied a petroleum prospecting licence over 900sq kilometres of the area, as the last company standing with plans to explore for CSG in Byron and Tweed shires.
A smaller exploration company has licences covering areas around Casino and further south.
But calls for the NSWALC to give up its exploration plans in the wake of the other pullouts have been met with silence, and repeated Echonetdaily requests for comment from NSWALC management and media staff have been ignored this week.
Tweed-Byron LAC chair Des Williams said yesterday the council was not against the NSWALC’s controversial move into mining and exploration, only against its focus on CSG.
Mr Williams told Echonetdaily that CSG had major impacts on groundwater and the environment and as such his land council was against it.
But he said the local land council was not against ‘other types’ of mining or exploration by the NSW land council, which includes minerals and rare earths.
Mr Williams said that if the NSW land council had consulted with his group on its plans to explore for CSG beforehand, ‘it would have been a different story, they wouldn’t have struck as much opposition’.
He said his group objected ‘to the way (chief executive officer of the NSWALC) Geoff Scott went about it’.
‘We didn’t know they had designated areas around NSW till we read it in the paper,’ Mr Williams said.
The plans by the NSWALC, the peak body for all NSW local land councils, to explore for coal seam gas under 40 per cent of the state, outraged other indigenous community leaders.
At the time, NSW land council chief Mr Scott said the move was about investing in the future of Aboriginal communities to put an end to indigenous poverty.
‘If we want to stand on our own, without reliance on government, then we have to be prepared to lead the way on issues, and that includes investing our own resources,’ Mr Scott said.
But Arakwal Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson Yvonne Stewart told media at the time that it was an outrageous move as traditional owners of the land were not consulted.
Ms Stewart said parts of the licence application area overlapped with a native title claim and CSG mining was totally against local Aboriginal tradition of environmental protection,
Githabul community elders, who were involved in the recent protests at Doutbful Creek against Metgasco, are also opposed to the NSWALC plans, which overlap the Githabul native title claim of 2007 covering more than 6,000 square kilometres.
Githabul spokeswoman Gloria Williams told ABC North Coast last year that the native title agreement was being wrongly used to allow CSG interests into the region.
The NSW land council’s involvement in the resources sector, with an unnamed joint-venture partner, has made it Australia’s first indigenous commercial miner.
It originally lodged three exploration licence applications last year but one, covering parts of the NSW south coast around Wollongong, was rejected by NSW Trade and Investment.
The licences allow for the prospector to conduct surveys for 12 months, but new licences would be needed for drilling and seismic surveys.