Is the coal-seam-gas industry dead and buried on the northern rivers, or will it flare up as a major election issue again, this time at federal level?
The issue exploded this week with revelations the state government had been spruiking northern NSW to foreign mining investors as a good place for coal seam gas exploration.
This was despite north coast National Party MPs telling voters the area was now CSG-free after the state had bought back $25 million worth of local exploration licences.
But the issue is threatening to be a major thorn in the side for the Nationals, which marginally hold the federal north coast seat of Page (Kevin Hogan) as well as state seats of Lismore (Thomas George), Clarence (Chris Gulaptis), and Tweed (Geoff Provest).
Labor’s candidate for Page Janelle Saffin and the Greens candidate for Richmond Dawn Walker were quick to attack their Nationals opponents over the latest controversy, which the state government dismissed as a bureacratic bungle.
Ms Saffin challenged Mr Hogan and his party for a ‘full and thorough explanation’ over the government’s marketing program, which involved distributing a CD (compact disc) promoting CSG opportunities on the north coast to investors at an overseas conference.
She had asked, among other things, why was the CD produced, who had requested the production of the CD and whether the state minister for resources had approved it.
But Mr Hogan brushed the issue off, telling Echonetdaily that ’every man and woman on the street in our community knows that CSG is dead and buried’.
‘I support the decision of my state colleagues to buy back licences on the north coast. It was a great victory for our community who stood firm,’ he said.
‘In regards to this state government bureaucratic stuff up, that is best answered by the state government and I am happy to pass those questions on to them, which I have done.’
Ms Saffin issued a second media release on the issue yesterday saying ‘Mr Hogan and Nationals must come clean on NSW Government’s CSG spruiking’.
‘Simply dismissing an official NSW government marketing program that aims to attract CSG miners to the northern rivers as “bureaucratic bungling” is not good enough,
‘All we know at the moment is that a NSW government CD promoting the northern rivers area as having “very good potential” for CSG extraction was distributed at a mining conference in Canada for 20,000 mining investors.
‘Even though the Liberal-Nationals have been running the NSW government for the past five years, they still have tried to blame everyone else for the CD.
‘Mr Hogan has assured us that we will all forget about it, so there’s no reason to worry. I’m sure that’s what he hopes.
‘But the people of the north coast not only have good memories, they are also rightly sceptical of politicians who try to blame bureaucrats when they’re caught out.
‘These CDs must immediately be scrapped, and all mining investors who have received the CDs must be told that they contain false information.
‘If mining companies and government officials are confused about the Liberal-Nationals position on CSG, it’s no wonder that voters are confused as well,’ Ms Saffin said.
The revelation of the marketing by Fairfax Media this week details how the state government CSG licence buy-back had followed a ‘bruising 2015 NSW election for the National Party where a CSG-backlash cost the party a seat to the Greens [Ballina] and 20-points swings in the north’.
‘Senior Nationals warned voters would desert the party “for a generation” if they did not stop mining’, the Fairfax report said.
‘The Greens were the main beneficiary of the 2015 state backlash and are this year trying to leapfrog the Nationals to claim Richmond from Labor,’ it said.
After the marketing issue broke, a spokesman for state energy minister, Anthony Roberts, said the NSW government ‘has no intention of any further petroleum or gas exploration in the northern rivers’.
On Friday, a spokesman for the Division of Resources and Energy in the NSW Department of Industry, Skills and Regional Development, issued a statement to echonetdaily.
‘The NSW Division of Resources and Energy is fully aware that the NSW Government policy is that there will be no further petroleum or gas exploration or production in the Northern Rivers region of NSW’, the statement said.
‘Promotional materials produced by the division and used at various investor conferences does acknowledge where gas finds and mineral deposits have been identified across the state.
‘It is with regret that we acknowledge that these materials did not make clear that while gas resources may have been identified in these areas, they will not be released for any exploration or production activities in the northern rivers.
‘These department promotional materials have been withdrawn. New processes to ensure that any future promotional materials align with Government policies are being implemented,’ the statement concluded.
Both Ms Saffin and Ms Walker rejected the government assurances as ‘hollow’.
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