A day is a long time in state politics.
Yesterday afternoon, as his premier exited stage left, newly appointed mining minister Anthony Roberts met with a group of people who earlier in the day he had referred to as ‘extremists’.
Mr Roberts, who only recently replaced disgraced former minister Chris Hartcher, made the statement after meeting with staff of Metgasco, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, the land and water commissioner and representatives of Richmond Valley, Lismore and Kyogle councils in Casino.
The meeting was to ‘discuss community concerns’ about unconventional gas mining, according to the minister’s spokesperson.
But when Mr Roberts emerged from the morning meeting he denounced protesters, saying they had ‘continuously entered Mr Graham’s property illegally and caused deliberate damage’.
‘This includes chaining, padlocking and welding gates, and laying of barriers of concrete and metal spikes on driveways,’ he said.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Ian Gaillard told Echonetdaily that all the structures built by protectors were intended to be on the roadside verge ‘outside the fenceline’ but admitted that as there is no outside fence in places ‘it’s not completely clear’.
Mr Roberts went further, alleging ‘bullying, harassment and intimidation’.
‘Peter and his family, including his two seven-year-old children, should not have to put up with this behaviour day in and day out,’ he said, perhaps unaware of the fact that the Graham family does not live on the property.
‘They will achieve nothing by intimidating landholders, and the full force of the law will be brought to bear on those involved in illegal activity.
‘If people have an issue with gas operations in New South Wales they should take that up with the government rather than intimidate landholders and companies.’
After the morning meeting, and in front of TV cameras, Mr Gaillard asked Mr Roberts to allow the community to take up the issues with him, as he had just suggested.
And the minister agreed.
The meeting, which was hastily convened in the Grafton office of Clarence Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis, was cordial and amicable, according to Mr Gaillard.
There Mr Roberts and senator Scott McDonald were introduced to ‘extremists’ including: ‘Robert Lowry, who’s from a dairy farming family of 150 years; Ross Joseph, who is the former CEO of St Vincent’s Hospital, and his wife Rosemary; Peter and Meg Nielsen, who are beef farmers just up the road; Ken Curtis, who lives within two kilometres of the drill site, and Charlie Wilkinson, who is an immediate neighbour,’ Mr Gaillard said.
‘Most of the people who met with him today are grandparents, most of them have never done anything like this before and most of them are baffled as to why the government plans to send up to 400 police up here to assist this speculative mining company,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Minister Roberts told the group that the Liberal government ‘inherited the position of these gas licences from the last Labor government’.
In return the community representatives told the minister they were ‘seeking a political dialogue that goes well beyond the political cycle’, Mr Gaillard said.
‘We feel that our politicians [need to] think about our grandchildren. We don’t support the idea of a short political cycle, making decisions that will last forever – especially in regard to our water and land.’
He said that the minister ‘as a father of two young children… agreed with us but he kept on going back to the regulations’.
‘We hope we have made an impact with him. It remains to be seen.
‘It also remains to be seen what the makeup of the new NSW government is, and how they respond.
‘But we did ask him to, at the earliest available opportunity, seek to facilitate a meeting with the incoming premier,’ Mr Gaillard said.