The fight by north coast councils to stop the coal seam gas (CSG) industry establishing itself in the region has been ramped up with a call for the government to protect the Tweed’s sugar crop from exploration or mining.
Tweed Shire councillors unanimously voted at its last meeting to write to the government requesting the sugar cane industry be given ‘critical industry cluster’ status.
Councillors told premier Mike Baird, deputy premier Andrew Stoner and planning minister Pru Goward the cane industry was a vital economic activity which should be protected from the impacts of gas mining.
Tweed shire deputy mayor Michael Armstrong, who instigated the move, said he had spoken to canegrowers who were worried about the impact of CSG exploration and mining on underground water sources and agriculture generally.
Cr Armstrong told council that while the contribution of the sugar cane industry to the economy of the Tweed was unquestionable, the ability of the shire’s rural land strategy to influence state government policy relating to mining exploration ‘is extremely limited’.
‘It would be of concern if mining were to diminish the agricultural productivity of the Tweed, or affect soil, water or vegetation quality or the quality of life of rural residents,’ he said.
Ironically, Cr Phil Youngblutt, a member of the National Party’s minority faction on council, consistently argues ‘there is no CSG in the Tweed’.
But CSG opponents question that, saying if that’s the case, why are there exploration licences covering most of the shire. They argue that if there is no CSG in the Tweed, then those licences should be handed back.
At its recent state conference, NSW Labor voted to declare the NSW north coast CSG free if it wins government next year, and backed a ban on CSG mining in the northern rivers region covering the Lismore, Ballina, Clarence and Tweed state electorates.
The move has made CSG a central issue for next March’s state election on the north coast and has been welcomed by campaigners against the industry.
At last year’s federal election, Labor’s Richmond MP Justine Elliot campaigned strongly against CSG, while her opponent, the National Party’s Matthew Fraser, was seen as a supporter of the industry.
Greens preferences, on the back of Mrs Elliot’s stand against CSG, helped her retain the seat.
Mr Fraser throughout his election campaign had also repeated the line that there was ‘no CSG to be mined in the Tweed’.
Cr Armstrong told Echonetdaily this morning that the state’s wine and horse-breeding industries had been protected from CSG mining by the government with ‘critical industry cluster’ status.
He said the sugar industry was just as vital for the Tweed and the north coast, and should be given the same status.
The sugar industry has been a big part of the economic and social life in northern NSW for more than 100 years and contributes millions of dollars each year to the local and regional economy.
‘It’s a critical industry for the region and we felt it necessary to voice our concern about CSG impacting on it,’ he said.
‘CSG could seriously impact on sugar-cane growing in the long term and we wanted this protection for sugar as well.’
Cr Armstrong said that if Labor succeeded in ‘getting the whole north coast declared CSG-free’ (by winning the state election) then ‘sugar can can also be protected at the same time’.
Last month, the federal National Party walked away from its commitments to protect the national water trigger on CSG mining, and voted to allow it to be handed back to the states.
Lock the Gate anti-CSG alliance has accused federal Page MP Kevin Hogan, a National Party member, of turning his back on iron-clad commitments made to his electorate to cross the floor on the CSG issue if necessary.
National co-ordinator for Lock the Gate Phil Laird said Mr Hogan and the National Party voted to allow the federal water trigger to be handed back to the states ‘rendering it completely meaningless’.
‘Voting this trigger down is a huge betrayal of farming communities and our environment,’ Mr Laird said.
‘Liberal-National Party figures who vowed publicly that the water trigger would not be touched if they were elected, should now hang their heads in shame.’