Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall has launched a scathing attack on state MP Geoff Provest and deputy premier Troy Grant, accusing the two National Party politicians of trying to gag him over his stand against coal-seam gas (CSG) mining.
The defiant dummy-spit came on the eve of a media event organised by the two MPs yesterday at which they announced funding for a new tourism sign on the highway at the Queensland border.
Despite being snubbed for what he wanted to say, the Tweed mayor went along to the highway-edge announcement.
The row erupted on Friday when Mr Provest emailed council general manager Troy Green to tell him to trash a draft press release on the funding announcement because the mayor had made comments he didn’t like.
Cr Bagnall, who was elected mayor just last month, said his comments for the draft release had welcomed the funding for the sign, adding that Tweed council had taken the initiative to promote tourism by installing new signs ‘explaining the indigenous meaning of some village names, and that the shire also had plans for Gasfield Free signs’.
But Mr Provest saw red when he read the draft and fired off an email to council to say he found the mayor’s comments ‘totally inappropriate’.
‘Commenting about the gas field free signs just shows a lack of integrity and professionalism,’ Mr Provest said, accusing Cr Bagnall of taking an ‘opportunity to have little digs at the state government’.
The Tweed MP then told council it would ‘not be required to make any official comment’.
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily he was furious at being ‘snubbed and told to shut up’, saying new deputy premier Mr Grant was a staunch supporter of CSG and would not have liked ‘any mention of CSG”.
‘But I won’t be silenced,’ the mayor said.
‘What Mr Provest said was totally uncalled for, it was my first press release using a quote of mine, and I wanted to say how it was a good thing and added to other signs promoting the shire.
‘He was rude to me and should’ve called and discussed it with me first, he’s the one that lacks professionalism,’ he said.
Cr Bagnall said he would not be told ‘how to think or what to say’ by anyone and that from now on, he would write his own media releases ‘so if you hear it, I’ve said it’.
Objection to spin
He said previous mayors had gone along with what politicians and the bureaucracy wanted ‘to spin’.
‘I don’t want the community to feel ripped off, so I’ll not have my releases fabricated,’ he said.
Cr Bagnall said Mr Grant was on the record as describing those opposing CSG exploration as ‘scaremongering’.
He said he would always stand up for Tweed residents’ opposition to CSG and unconventional gas exploration.
“The deputy premier is the second most powerful elected NSW politician, but he does not have a right to tell me what to think or say,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘I stand with our community and oppose harmful coal seam gas mining and I will never be silenced by CSG supporters like the Nationals’ deputy premier or Geoff Provest,’ the mayor said.
Mr Provest told Echonetdaily the mayor ‘is welcome to his views and is free to make any public comment he chooses’, but because the project and land the sign was to go on was the state government’s, the announcement therefore was ‘not the appropriate vehicle to push other political agendas’.
Council GM Mr Green said that because the sign was on a state, rather than council, road council’s involvement was limited to the original request for improved gateway signage.
Mr Green told Echonetdaily it was not uncommon for local and state governments to issue joint press releases, and agreement was needed by both parties.
‘Normal protocol and etiquette is to focus on the announcement and not introduce or discuss other initiatives that may only be relevant to one party,’ he said.
‘The mayor in his quote altered from this protocol and on that basis the government understandably as the body funding, undertaking the works and owning the end product directed that they would handle the media releases alone but that council were still invited to attend.’