The campaign to keep the northern rivers gasfield-free has been boosted with deputy premier and Nationals leader Troy Grant calling for a halt to coal seam gas (CSG) in the region, a stand welcomed by longtime opponents of the industry.
National Party members at their state conference tomorrow (Saturday) are set to consider a formal policy banning CSG from the region, a move which has apparently caused a rift in the Baird government.
Lock the Gate Alliance and Gasfield Free Northern Rivers say they are ‘overjoyed’ Mr Grant ‘has heard the communities’ concern and is ready to help protect them from the threat of unconventional gas’.
Northern Rivers spokesperson Dean Draper said the deputy premier joined National Party MLC Ben Franklin and Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis in their opposition to coal seam gas in the northern rivers.
Mr Franklin promised to present a motion to the National Party conference, starting today, that would help deliver a gasfield free northern rivers.
‘The National Party Conference coming up this weekend is a perfect opportunity for the Party to demonstrate that they will listen and act on the concerns of farmers and landholders by making the northern rivers gasfield free’,Mr Draper said.
‘The NSW election sent the Nationals a clear message: protect the community or risk losing previously stalwart seats like Ballina and Lismore.
(The Nationals lost the previously safe seat of Ballina to the Greens and narrowly retained Lismore, with a 22.5 per cent swing away from the party.)
‘Unconventional gas is not appropriate for the Northern Rivers. We have a high population density and sensitive food production areas which cannot co-exist with such an invasive and dangerous industry,’ Mr Draper said.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the government ‘needs to heed the very clear messages being sent to them by people facing mining conflicts all over regional NSW.
‘Unconventional gas and the northern rivers do not mix,’ Ms Woods said.
Mr Grant told News Corp this week that he ‘supports the views of regional communities and it has been made very clear that the northern rivers community does not want CSG’.
But premier Mike Baird has refused to say if he would support his deputy in such a move.
NSW opposition leader Luke Foley told Fairfax Media he welcomed Mr Grant’s change of heart but ‘we will have to wait and see whether the government is prepared to act on the National Party’s leader’s call’.
‘There’s a long way to go to see whether that will be the policy of the government,’ he told 2GB Radio.
But the Greens say it will be ‘actions in Parliament that count’.
Newly-elected Greens MP for Ballina Tamara Smith said she welcomed ‘this shift from the Nationals and hope the party’s membership does support a ban at their state conference tomorrow’.
‘There is the potential that by tomorrow the Greens, Labor and the Nationals will all have a policy to ban CSG in the Northern Rivers,’ Ms Smith told Echonetdaily.
‘The real test will be what they do in the Parliament.
‘Together we have the numbers to pass legislation through both houses of Parliament to implement a gas field free Northern Rivers.
‘What I say to National’s leader Troy Grant and to other Nationals MPs is that I am happy to work with you to ensure we make the Northern Rivers gas field free, and cancel the existing licences as soon as possible.
‘From day one in Parliament I have been directing questions to the government about coal seam gas and putting forward the strong views of my community on this issue,” Ms Smith said.
‘The Greens have a coal seam gas prohibition bill in the Parliament right now which includes provisions to cancel existing exploration licences and prohibit the issuing of new licences.
‘The legislation would also re-introduce a public interest test that would allow licences to be cancelled without compensation.
‘The community didn’t ask for CSG and shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of previous governments and the failure of this industry to consult with the community and protect the land and water,’ Ms Smith said.