A bid by the National Party to ban coal seam gas (CSG) on the northern rivers has been aborted, with not even a vote on the widely-promoted proposal taken by MPs at their national conference over the weekend .
North coast Nationals’ MPs Thomas George (Lismore) and federal MP for Page, Kevin Hogan, have tried to douse the negative reaction to the failed move, which some media has already described as ‘in tatters’ and ‘fizzled into oblivion’.
Anti-CSG campaigners have called on the party to ‘urgently clarify its position’ on the industry in the northern rivers and elsewhere in the state after the push by Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and his Nationals leader Troy Grant was left hanging at the conference.
‘Some segments of the party are saying the motion didn’t fly because it was already parliamentary policy, while others are saying it didn’t fly because the ban it proposed should have applied to the whole state,’ said Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods.
‘The events of the last three days have left the people of NSW even more confused than ever as to where the National Party stands on CSG mining,’ Ms Woods said.
‘A very modest motion put forward by some northern rivers MPs about protecting their region from CSG did not even get sufficient support to be put to a vote last Friday.
‘Now Troy Grant is backing away from his comments supporting a ban on unconventional gas in the Northern Rivers,’ she said.
Federal Page MP Mr Hogan told media there was ‘no need for debate’ as as the National Party had already announced it as policy, while Mr Gulaptis said MPs were divided on the issue during a heated debate at the conference.
Mr Gulaptis told media he was disappointed the motion didn’t get up, but his party was already ‘tackling’ CSG in the region by working with CSG miner Metgasco and other licence holders.
The move was pushed widely in media before the conference by party leader Mr Grant, yet a majority of his MPs voted against the proposal going to a vote, some arguing that NSW would be sent broke if the government had to buy back all the licences.
Mr Hogan issued a brief statement at the weekend to say the Nationals’ policy to buy back or cancel all CSG licences on the northern rivers was ‘set in stone’ despite the vote cancelled at the last minute.
According to APN Media, Lismore MP Mr George argued for cancelling the vote as he said it was already the party’s policy.
But Nats MLC Ben Franklin, a former state director of the party, told the conference the party could ‘wipe itself out’ on the north coast unless it banned CSG.
Mr Franklin told APN Media ‘we need to get over this hurdle, we could lose the seats on the northern rivers for a generation’.
Ms Woods said that more than 147 communities across the northern rivers had declared themselves Gasfield Free, after a door to door survey of over 33,000 people.
In the state’s northwest, she said 96 per cent of people surveyed in communities covering three million hectares have said they want their area to remain gasfield free.
Wee Waa farmer, Sarah Ciesiolka said ‘coal seam gas is not hypothetical for us: Santos are proposing a major CSG production field in the Pilliga that people across our region oppose because of the risk it poses to groundwater and the health of people in our communities’.
‘We would welcome action from the National Party to protect agricultural areas and our precious groundwater from this industry in our region, but so far, have been ignored.’ she said.