Law lecturer and non-violent direct-action trainer Aiden Ricketts shows a welded angled lock-on device to one of the young participants in the documentary by Joe Hildebrand (behind in blue shirt). Photo Mel Hargraves
Melissa Hargraves and Dominic Feain
Coal seam gas (CSG) opponents on the northern rivers will feature in an upcoming documentary by controversial journalist Joe Hildebrand, who visited the area at the weekend.
Hildebrand travelled with an ABC film crew and a group of people in their early 20s from different political backgrounds exploring issues relevant to young Australians.
‘It’s a series we’re doing with young people about different issues and this is a whole episode on coal seam gas,’ Hildebrand told Echonetdaily.
The group visited a CSG information night at the Lismore Workers Club on Saturday night before meeting the Knitting Nanas at the Lismore Car Boot Market on Sunday morning and the Nimbin MardiGrass yesterday afternoon.
They also attended a non-violent direct-action training ‘mockade’ conducted by Southern Cross University (SCU) law lecturer Aiden Ricketts in Lismore on Sunday.
A cagey Hildebrand was reluctant to give away too much about the series, firing off tongue-in-cheek answers to questions.
He pitched the series idea to ABC2 after the record-breaking success of his program Dumb, Drunk and Racist in 2012.
‘One of the issues we are looking at is CSG, which is obviously a bit of a “hot button” one in the beautiful northern rivers district,’ he said.
‘We are still working through other issues, but we possibly might look at the takeover by hippies of the overall political agenda, potentially working toward a one-world government, a supreme hippie at the top of the pyramid that would control the whole planet,’ he quipped.
Hildebrand said mixing politics and young people was a ‘real ratings killer; people get immediately bored to death by it; it’s popular poison. I am the only thing in this country less popular than politics.’
A writer for the Daily Telegraph and a resident of Sydney, Mr Hildebrand shared an insight to the paper’s coverage of CSG and his own personal viewpoint.
‘The paper does not have an official position on CSG. Except for a few pockets of Sydney like St Peters and Camden, it is much more of a rural issue. We are more of a Sydney metropolitan-focused paper, so it is something that is not as massively on our radar as other issues,’ he said.
‘The fact that it has got such broad-spectrum support or opposition says something. Any time you have Alan Jones and the Greens party agreeing with each other, you can get into a lot of trouble if you disagree with them.’
On a more personal note, Mr Hildebrand believes that not many people would be interested in his own opinion.
‘I don’t know a lot about it; from what I understand, it’s largely a process issue. There have been stories of shortcuts in Queensland and selective quotations of data.
‘To be honest, I haven’t been outspoken about it one way or the other because fundamentally I am a very selfish person who only cares about issues that directly affect me.’
The term ‘hippie’ was thrown around provocatively by Hildebrand during his visit, at one point directed at local pecan farmer Gwilym Summers.
‘You’re not a real farmer,’ he said.
Mr Summers retorted, ‘I am passionate about farming, I always have been. I have gone to a lot of trouble and spent a lot of money doing what I am doing to try and create a mini-foodbowl on my farm.’
The well-attended meeting heard from key speakers with a short Q&A at the outset. Judy Emmett and Richard Deem shared the journey thus far, Lismore deputy mayor Simon Clough explained a systems approach to the success of the action, while Boudicca Cerese put the movement into a national and international context.
Ms Cerese has now become the research coordinator for the national Lock the Gate (LTG) organisation and in that capacity is working on the Australiawide coal and gas campaigns that aim to lobby the federal government in the build-up to the election via the recently launched Call to Country campaign.
LTG have received legal advice that the federal government do have the power to implement their plan.
The eight-point plan asks for an urgent moratorium on CSG and other unconventional gas mining, and exclusion of areas of high impacts such as agricultural land, national tourism icons, residential dwellings, important water sources, cultural heritage sites and sensitive environment areas.
The list also includes the creation of national standards and the enforcement of those, eliminate handouts to mining companies, reject current development of coal ports, mega mines, dams and gas wells in significant areas, research into emissions and ensure taxing of those and hold a royal commission to investigate the management of coal and gas resources by all Australian governments.
Ms Cerese stressed the need to lobby the federal government as state governments are ‘completely ignoring their responsibility to protect our food-producing lands, our water resources and our irreplaceable biodiversity and natural assets’.
She added that unconventional gas needed to be included in all legislation not just the recently amended Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
‘This Act does not apply to shale and tight gas, which is ridiculous considering the massive shale gas reserves make the CSG reserves look like tiny little spots on the map,’ she said.
An early visit to the Lismore Car Boot Market on Sunday saw Hildebrand’s subjects intensely questioning the Knitting Nanas Against Gas (KNAG), at one stage suggesting they were just a bunch of old greenies, which caused Anne Thomson to almost choke on her coffee.
‘I’ve never voted Greens in my life,’ she laughed.
‘I’ve always been a Nationals voter, but I’m very disappointed in them on this issue. I’m still deciding who to vote for.’
Southern Cross University (SCU) law lecturer and non-violent direct-action (NVDA) trainer Aiden Ricketts was asked to conduct a mock blockade, otherwise tagged a ‘mockade’, for their project.
Mr Ricketts, the Knitting Nanas and other attendants gave an almost real reproduction of a typical blockade.
Two of the four subjects of the program participated in the training and experienced a lock-on; one locked onto a bull bar with a device around her neck while the other locked on underneath the car.
Mr Ricketts didn’t take any of Hildebrand’s comments seriously, rather seeing him as a ‘mischievous comedian’. When pressed about the possible slants taken by the program, Mr Ricketts responded ‘it’s hard to mock a mockade’.