Opponents of unconventional gas mining have welcomed reports that some NSW National Party politicians are lobbying their colleagues to support a ban on coal seam gas mining in the northern rivers region.
Newly elected National Party MLC Ben Franklin, who lives in Ballina, has joined forces with Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis to lobby for such a ban.
Mr Franklin used his inaugural speech in parliament recently to speak out against unconventional gas mining, making reference to Mr Gulaptis’s opposition to CSG.
He argued that a legal and comprehensive process to eliminate CSG licenses on the north coast was integral to social harmony in the region.
According to a Fairfax report this morning, they now want to take a motion to the National Party conference in the Hunter region next month.
Apart from overwhelming public support for a CSG ban, the National Party members are supported at a Federal level by National Party Page MP Kevin Hogan who has been on record a number of times saying the northern rivers region was no place for unconventional gas mining.
The new push for a region-wide CSG ban follows swings against the National Party in the northern rivers, which saw Greens candidate Tamara Smith take the seat of Ballina, and sitting members in both Tweed and Lismore only just scraping back into office.
Lismore MP Thomas George, who narrowly held his seat against Greens challenger, and anti-CSG campaigner Adam Guise, was not included in the Fairfax report but claimed prior to the election that he had worked ‘behind the scenes’ to raise concerns about CSG in the region.
The push against CSG is sure to create divisions in the governing Coalition, with NSW premier Mike Baird this week refusing to rule out extending Metgasco’s drilling licence for its Rosella site near Bentley, after suspending the licence last year amid massive community opposition.
But after being challenged and losing in the NSW Supreme Court, the government has confirmed it would not appeal against the ruling, and would instead negotiate an outcome with the mining company Metgasco.
Metgasco’s managing director Peter Henderson told ABC that reports that suggested Metgasco would sell up and move on for $80 million were speculative.
‘We’ve spent $120 million and many people would argue that if the Government didn’t want us to continue exploring, particularly after we’ve done the right thing year after year, then $120 million is the right figure,’ he said.
Nevertheless, the Lock the Gate Alliance today welcomed reports of a possible National Party change of heart on the issue.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said the NSW election had sent a clear message to all political parties about community concern over the land, water and health impacts of CSG.
‘It has been clear for some time that the northern rivers’ almost universally rejects unconventional gas and it is good and right that politicians act to respond to that degree of community sentiment,’ Ms Woods said.
‘The National party have clearly listened to the overwhelming concern from the community and they should be congratulated for that.
‘This community has fought unconventional gas every step of the way, and has sadly had to resort to peaceful civil disobedience on three occasions because Government and industry would not listen.
‘A ban would help ease the stress that the threat of unconventional gasfields has put on this community over the last four years, but we hope that the Government acts swiftly and decisively to put the public interest first in the northern rivers and across the state.
‘We need legislation that makes the public interest grounds for suspending and cancelling mining and petroleum leases and licences so that politicians have the powers they need to represent the people, and not be held over a barrel by mining companies.
“We applaud Chris Gulaptis, Ben Franklin and Kevin Hogan for their efforts and encourage those Nationals sitting on the side-lines in the North West of NSW to follow their lead.”
‘We hope, too, that the National party remembers the strain that mining is having on other communities across NSW and move issue a state wide halt until proper scientific research has been completed, strict no-go zones are in place and the industry can prove it is safe.’