An SCU lecturer and social change trainer has says a crudely produced anonymous letter, which calls on the community to boycott Casino businesses in retribution for alleged ‘support’ of CSG company Metgasco, is part of a deliberate smear campaign.
Aidan Ricketts, who has made a study of the pro- and anti-gas movements, says the release of the letter mirrors tactics discussed on the pro-mining forum Hot Copper late last year.
Yesterday, Richmond Valley mayor Ernie Bennett said the letter ‘appeared to be an attempt by the more radical anti-gas protesters to coerce local residents and businesses into joining their protest for fear of retribution’.
Mr Bennett went on to say, ‘to be attacked and boycotted for no particular reason was unAustralian’.
But Mr Ricketts says this is exactly the sort of sentiments the letter’s anonymous authors were hoping to elicit.
He told Echonetdaily yesterday, ‘the moment I heard about this supposed letter about a business boycott I knew it was not from the gasfield-free movement’.
‘We have very strong community and business support in all parts of the northern rivers including Richmond Valley Council area, and there’s no way we would ever consider a boycott of the kind suggested. Indeed, the major reason for opposing the gas invasion is to protect our local economy and businesses,’ Mr Ricketts said.
He added that in his personal opinion, ‘this anonymous letter is a case of gas supporters using “black ops” to try to discredit our very strong and popular social movement’.
‘I was immediately reminded of a post I saw on the Metgasco shareholders’ forum on Hot Copper from late last year where one of the contributors foreshadowed using exactly this kind of campaign to try to discredit the gasfield-free movement,’ he said.
In that post, a shareholder promoted below-the-belt tactics intended to paint opponents as extremists.
‘The only way to fight special-interest groups is to become an extreme version of them and mobilise the public against them,’ wrote a shareholder with the online identity ‘Yellowcake’.
‘For example, in the animal-rights debate you resource a group called BAN MEAT EATING! All of a sudden the movement morphs into an obvious affront in Joe Public’s mind on the rights of individuals to have choice and the public will push back strongly against this,’ s/he wrote.
‘With the anti CSG movement you need to see a group formed that can grab headlines and be an obvious affront on people’s ability to access and use cheap gas. NO NSW GAS!, lock it all up.’
Yellowcake ended with the bizarre invocation, ‘you have to get dirty in these fights! I guarantee the big gas predators with deep pockets and political influence are funding the anti-CSG movement.’
Mr Ricketts described the letter as ‘so eerily similar to the plan foreshadowed on Hot Copper that there is a good reason to suspect it is black ops by gas supporters’.
He added that ‘there is previous form as well. I recall that an online Northern Star poll was manipulated some time ago and posts on Hot Copper revealed complicity in stacking the vote’.
‘And in late 2102 there was an alleged bomb hoax at Metgasco’s offices that turned out to be baseless,’ he said.
More than 24 hours after the letter’s appearance, no-one has come forward to claim authorship and anti-gas groups have been at pains to reject its proposals as nonsense.
Gasfields Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Adam Guise said the group, which organised the camping approval at Bentley, ‘would not undertake such a dubious and unconstructive action’.
‘We know that many local businesses are as concerned about unconventional gas and its impact on the economy and environment as we are. Our surveys show a majority of businesses and people in the Casino area are opposed to invasive gasfields,’ said Mr Guise.
‘It is Richmond Valley Council that is out of step with its community when it continues to show support for Metgasco’s invasive activities,’ he added.
‘The actions of local businesses across the region who have given in-kind support and donations to anti-CSG blockades and other protests bear witness to the concerns many in the business community have about the industrialisation of our region for gasfields.’
Mr Guise said that Gasfield Free Northern Rivers would ‘continue to work with communities and businesses from across the region in our efforts to protect the land, water and healthy environment upon which we all rely for our livelihoods and wellbeing’.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Ian Gaillard also disassociated that group from the letter and enquiries by Echonetdaily have failed to find any knowledge or support of it among opponents of unconventional gas.