Tension is running high as D-Day approaches next Monday when police are set to descend on the community anti-CSG blockade at Bentley to clear a path for a massive drill rig.
The expected diversion of police from across the state to break up the blockade has been slammed in state parliament, with police refusing to confirm the reported use of up to 800 officers for the operation.
A last-minute plea by farmers from Bentley opposed to Metgasco’s proposed gasfield, who travelled to Sydney last week, fell on deaf ears when coalition MPs and ministers refused to see them.
And Southern Cross University has backed down from an agreement to feed police sent to the Bentley protest site after it was flooded with complaints when word spread that its catering arm was involved.
Organisers of the protest, who say Bentley is the biggest community blockade in Australia’s history, have organised last-minute workshops for supporters this week on non-violent direct action (NVDA), in anticipation the police action will take place on Monday 19 May, as widely rumoured.
Sydney media has reported the plans by police to send hundreds of officers, including riot squad, to ‘crush’ the protest.
A police media statement says an operation is planned to take place at Bentley ‘to facilitate a lawful protest and ensure normal operations at the gas exploration site’.
On Thursday, new premier Mike Baird and new police minister Stuart Ayres both refused to confirm reports when questioned by Labor MPs that they were diverting 800 police from regular duties across the state to the protest
The opposition says that’s almost double the allocation of police sent recently to protect the G20 Summit.
‘At a time when violent shootings in Sydney are increasing, Mike Baird and his rookie police minister Stuart Ayres are planning to send 800 police to the north coast to break up a peaceful protest of farmers and local community members concerned about the impacts of CSG,’ opposition leader John Robertson said.
‘Directing 800 police to break up a peaceful protest is a major overreaction by Mike Baird and the Liberals and evidence that the interests of private businesses run this government,’ Mr Roberston said.
‘These actions of the government are putting the safety of the local community and police at risk.’
Shadow police minister Michael Daley said: ‘We have now seen 360 shootings since the Liberals were elected in 2011, Mike Baird should not be diverting resources away from already stretched LACs to break up a protest.
‘This is the first major test for the state’s rookie police minister and the priority he places on stopping the shootings in Western Sydney rather than arresting peaceful protestors on the North Coast,’ Mr Daley said.
Shadow minster for the North Coast Walt Secord said comments by the NSW treasurer Andrew Constance attacking local protestors and declaring they were not ‘peaceful’ as disgraceful.
‘Local community members including farmers on the North Coast have the right to protest against CSG and unconventional gas exploration,’ Mr Secord said.
‘The government should be talking to local community, not insulting protestors and preparing to direct 800 police into the protest.’
Ballina MP Don Page told Echonetdaily five National Party MPs met the people from Bentley in Parliament last week: Geoff Provest, Chris Gulaptis, himself, Thomas George and land and water resources minister Kevin Humphries.
‘We met them despite getting less than 24 hours notice during a Parliamentary session,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell says Southern Cross University (SCU) has backflipped on Bentley police catering.
ABC North Coast reported Cr Dowell saying SCU would have risked its reputation had it agreed to feed police sent to the Bentley protest site.
She said the university’s commercial arm, Norsearch, had entered into a catering agreement but when it was known, SCU was flooded with complaints.
‘I think that they’ve responded to that and realised that the community does not wish them to be providing food for this operation,’ she told the ABC.
The non-violent direct action workshops at the Bentley camp 10 minutes from Lismore will be held on Thursday 15 May at 2pm and Saturday 17 May at 1pm, run by Lismore councillor Simon Clough and Lock the Gate regional coordinator Adam Guise.
Also, a new doco on the blockade has been released by Peppercorn Projects called The Medium is the Message (33 minutes long) at http://youtu.be/QAGhO_Hf60s