Richmond Valley Council (RVC) has refused to issue an extension to the DA for the Bentley protectors’ camp, meaning anyone deciding to camp there beyond Anzac Day can potentially be removed by police despite the fact that they are on private property.
RVC GM John Walker cited breaches of the original permit granted to Gasfield Free Northern Rivers as the reason for the decision, including the making of food and performance of music at the camp, more people staying on site than the permit allowed and minor traffic infringements.
But the group says the rejection shows bad faith on the part of the council, which encouraged them to submit the amended DA in the first place.
In a media release issued this morning representatives say they feel ‘betrayed’ by RVC’s decision to refuse the extension and emphasise that they will ‘explore all options’ to continue their use of the site.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Aidan Rickets said Mr Walker’s announcement yesterday ‘displays complete contempt for public safety and community goodwill’.
‘In the last week we have seen the minister Anthony Roberts come to the northern rivers and vilify local residents as “extremists”.
‘Vilification and force are hallmarks of an industry and a government that has lost the debate.
‘The people of the northern rivers have shown themselves to be a dignified, restrained and peaceful community that is determined in huge numbers to resist the gasfield invasion.
‘The only honourable thing for the RVC and the state government to do now is to seek a negotiated political solution to the impasse in the northern rivers rather than continue to increase the level of force that it applies against this community,’ Mr Ricketts said.
Mayor against mayor
Yesterday the Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland and Tweed mayor Barry Longland visited the site and climbed the prominent tripod structures in the driveway that protesters have built as a sign of support.
RVC mayor Ernie Bennett told ABC Radio the other mayors were inciting illegal behaviour by doing so as the structures were built without a permit and could be dangerous.
He added that the mayors’ trip had caused a ‘media frenzy’.
Mr Bennett claimed that police were concerned about ‘crime’ in their response to the application but declined to elaborate what he meant by the statement, saying that it was a police matter.
Local landholder Ross Joseph responded that the structures are not part of the campsite but are located in the driveways to Peter Graham’s adjacent property where gas exploration is planned.
GM had ‘no idea’
Just a week ago Lock the Gate’s Ian Gaillard told Echonetdaily he was optimistic that the extension, which would have allowed for up to 600 people to legally camp at the site, would be approved at today’s council meeting.
‘I feel it would be in the best interests of everyone,’ he said at the time.
He added the ‘handful of breach notices’ that had been received by the landholder regarding the campsite were ‘being addressed as we speak’.
Last night he told Echonetdaily that as recently as yesterday morning, Mr Walker, when asked how the application was proceeding, responded, ‘I don’t know; I’ll have to check’.
Mr Gaillard said there were no plans to pack up the camp.
‘I think there’ll be a fair bit of wrangling and some legal eagles and opinion for a little while yet,’ he said.
‘Of course the police would have to be contacted and all the Is dotted and Ts crossed before they were able to move in on this camp.’
He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the camp swelled in size before any police action took place.
‘One would expect that a lot of people would show a lot of support for the camp and a lot of disgust at the way the Richmond Valley Council has shown itself to behave in this matter,’ he said.
‘It seems that the Richmond Valley council, under whoever’s orders they are acting, have decided to line up with the “mining by martial law” faction and we would expect better things of elected representatives.’
Mr Walker said in a statement yesterday, ‘the site’s subsequent growth since the approval was originally granted, the length of time that the camp has been operating, the ongoing breach of many of the approval conditions and the inability of the consent holder to control the activities of many of the campers and visitors to the site makes the use of a Section 68 approval under which it has operated as a primitive camping site inappropriate’.