NSW Premier Mike Baird has today refused to be drawn on calls to declare the northern rivers a gasfield free region.
With thousands expected to flood into Lismore tomorrow for a rally declaring the region gasfield free, the premier arrived at the Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport this morning to be greeted by members of the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers group.
GFNR coordinator Dean Draper presented the premier with a letter inviting him to attend tomorrow’s rally, while Meg Nielsen gave Mr Baird a basket of the region’s produce.
The letter pointed out that there are now 142 self-declared gasfield free communities in the region, with an average of 95.3 per cent of respondents declaring they want a gasfield-free region.
‘From the Clarence valley to the Queensland border and west to the ranges, our communities have made clear their determination to keep our land and water free of invasive gasfields.
‘As we stood together at Bentley, so too will we stand together again if any gas company attempts to force their operations on other unwilling communities.
‘With the opposition now endorsing our call to be a gasfield free region, we are calling on you, as leader of the NSW government, to honour the region’s wishes and to commit immediately to cancelling all gas licences.’
Mr Baird said he would be unable to attend the rally, and when asked directly by the Echonedaily whether he would cancel gas licences in the region, the premier refused to give a straight answer, instead blaming Labor for ‘the mess’ they left behind.
‘There is an audit being undertaken by the energy minister and we have shown already that we are prepared to act,’ he said.
‘Obviously this is symptomatic of the mess we inherited from Labor where licences were issued without any scrutiny and without any protection for the community.
‘The minister recently announced a suspension of all new licences while we get the house in order.’
Mr Baird said his government would shortly be releasing its gas policy, which would be based upon recommendations from the NSW chief scientist.
He said the government was ‘proud’ to be making its decisions based on scientific evidence.
‘We won’t be supporting anything which is done without the appropriate rigour and scientific analysis.
‘Ultimately if you want to support gas and energy provision in this state which we do, it should only be done if there are no impacts, long term, on the environment and water.’
Mr Baird accused NSW Labor of putting out mixed messages with regards to coal seam gas.
‘Listening to them is like listening to Lance Armstrong speaking out against drugs in sport,’ he said.
‘They left this state in a mess. They issued licences from one end to the other and they had no control, no protections, it was a free for all.
‘We have to clean up the mess and that’s exactly what we’re doing and we certainly won’t be listening to any policies that they put forward because you simply can’t trust them.’