North coast residents, MPs and anti-coal seam gas (CSG) campaigners have lashed out at the new federal government’s pro-CSG agenda, with some saying the coalition has declared war on farmers and communities by backing the controversial industry.
The incoming federal industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, sparked outrage yesterday by declaring he would lobby and ‘push hard’ for NSW farmers to rethink their opposition.
The minister said development of the industry in NSW would be ‘a priority’ and ‘the most urgent resource issue’ of the new government.
Lock the Gate Northern Rivers says Mr Macfarlane’s comments that opposition to the CSG industry was unscientific and driven by small but vocal interest groups showed he was ‘out of touch’ with community concerns.
And Richmond MP Justine Elliot has challenged the Nationals’ new Page MP Kevin Hogan to publicly reject the minister’s push in the wake of his comments and her call to the NSW parliament this week to debate a petition against CSG by more than 12,000 residents in both the Page and Richmond electorates.
Mr Hogan is yet to comment, despite a request by Echonetdaily.
Greens NSW mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the Abbott government had ‘declared war on the farmers and communities around NSW who are trying to protect their land and water from the threat posed by coal seam gas’.
‘The Abbott government seems willing to risk agriculture and water resources, so that a few large oil companies can export LNG to Asian markets; their priorities are back-to-front,’ Mr Buckingham said.
MPs must stand up
‘The question is now whether the National Party, and MPs such as Barnaby Joyce, will have the guts to stand up their Coalition colleagues.’
Mrs Elliot has also challenged the north coast’s four National MPs to speak out against the government now and in the debate to be triggered by the tabling of the petition by the end of the year.
‘The north coast National Party MPs Geoff Provest (Tweed), Don Page (Ballina), Thomas George (Lismore) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence) have nowhere left to hide. They must stand up and speak in this debate,’ she said.
‘Our community was forced to present this petition because the National Party MPs have refused to listen to our concerns about CSG mining.’
The petition was launched in February this year by Mrs Elliot and the former member for Page, Janelle Saffin.
Mrs Elliot told Echonetdaily yesterday that she felt sorry that Ms Saffin had lost her seat given her vocal opposition to CSG and now it was time for her replacement, Mr Hogan, to ‘stand up and be counted’ on his promise to cross the floor against the CSG industry taking a foothold on the north coast.
‘The biggest threat to our way of life is the National Party’s pro-CSG, drilling, fracking and expansion agenda,’ she said.
‘The National Party at both a state and federal level have pro-CSG plans and this petition demands they explain themselves.’
Mrs Elliot and Ms Saffin had both lobbied their government for the ‘water trigger’ clause in federal legislation pushed by former independent MP Tony Windsor as a means of stopping CSG exploration and mining if water supplies were under threat of contamination.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Boudicca Cerese said opposition to CSG on the north coast was very widespread and massive, with 95 per cent of people surveyed by their group opposed to it.
Ms Cerese said, ‘every single candidate’ in the region during the election campaign had stated their opposition to CSG ‘because they knew people here were against it’.
Mr Buckingham said, ‘Export LNG is creating an entirely artificial gas supply problem, yet rather than reserve gas for domestic supply, the coalition looks set to let coal seam gas rip across the landscape’.
He said the best way to solve the gas-supply problem ‘without wrecking NSW with coal seam gas’ is to introduce a domestic gas reservation policy ‘that reserves some conventional gas for domestic use’.
Mrs Elliot said locals were now fighting the state and federal coalition governments as well as CSG mining companies on the issue.
‘They underestimate the people of the north coast; we will fight to stop Gaslands happening here,’ she said.
Mrs Elliot urged locals to contact the north coast National Party MPs to ‘demand they speak on this important CSG debate in the NSW parliament’.
She said people could sign the petition at: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/la/latabdoc.nsf/V3ListPetitionsLE500.