Conservation groups have rejected claims coal seam gas and mining were not critical issues in the NSW election, describing results in northern NSW as a ‘political earthquake’.
Incumbent Nationals MP Thomas George leads Greens candidate Adam Guise by just over 300 votes after preferences with 83.6 per cent of votes counted, according to ABC figures released on Tuesday night.
Mr Guise had been ahead by 100 votes in the afternoon before Mr George pulled back ground.
Mr George has said the final result is unlikely to be known until after the Easter long weekend.
The Lock the Gate Alliance says the fall of Ballina and possibly Lismore – traditional Nationals strongholds – to the Greens had demonstrated the deep community disquiet about CSG.
‘The NSW government has an overwhelming mandate to change direction and act to protect water, farmland and people from the impacts of coal and gas mining,’ Lock the Gate national co-ordinator Phil Laird said on Tuesday.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said after Saturday’s election that, while CSG was the critical issue in Ballina and Lismore, coal mining and CSG were not key factors in rural electorates elsewhere in the state.
Ms Simson said native vegetation, infrastructure and health spending were bigger issues across NSW in general.
However, Mr Laird said the fact the Baird government took high-profile measures – such as announcing the cancellation of petroleum exploration licences (PEL) in key areas – shows CSG was a hot issue.
‘During the election they were systematically dribbling out announcements on PEL cancellations around the state in a bid to contain the issue,’ he said.
‘It was statewide.’
Lock the Gate has pointed to heavy swings against the Nationals in traditional stronghold seats such as Clarence, Upper Hunter and Barwon as evidence of anger over the government’s position on CSG and mining.
This is despite the swing in Clarence going towards Labor and an independent out-polling the Greens in Upper Hunter.
Barwon covers nearly half of NSW and includes Narrabri and the Pilliga forest, where CSG has been a hot-button issue.
However, Barwon MP Kevin Humphries attributed his reduced margin to a redistribution which included Broken Hill in his electorate.
The Nationals have also pointed to the result in Tamworth, where Nationals MP Kevin Anderson held his seat with an increased margin, as evidence mining was not a key issue.
Chinese mining giant Shenhua’s Watermark coal mine proposal has angered farmers on the Liverpool Plains, which fall within the electorate.
Mr Laird said the win for the Nationals was due to the federal government stepping in before the election and putting the mine on hold.
He said the onus is on federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to stop the Shenhua mine altogether.
He called for the Baird government to halt CSG activity until it has delivered on all 16 recommendations made by the state’s chief scientist, Mary O’Kane, in her 2014 report on the NSW CSG industry.