Yesterday the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) Moratorium Bill was debated in the NSW Lower House (Legislative Assembly) of parliament and was defeated with 36 votes in favour and 38 votes against.
The bill sought to impose an immediate moratorium on the propecting or mining of coal seam gas in NSW and classified certain areas as permanent “no go zones”‘.
National and Liberal Party members voted against the CSG moratorium bill blocking it from becoming law.
The CSG moratorium bill had been passed through the Upper House at midnight on Wednesday (3 June) 20 votes to 17 by MLC Justin Field with the support of Labor, the Greens, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and the Animal Justice Party.
Unusually the Bill was brought to the Lower House a mere ten hours after it had passed in the Upper House (NSW Legislative Council). Many advocates in favour of the Bill have said that the timing was a political tactic by the conservatives to stop voters lobbying their local members of parliament (MPs).
‘Government raced this through in a very unusual way – just 10 hours after it was passed in the Legislative Council, it was being debated in the Legislative Assembly (LA). I don’t think they wanted to give their own constituents a chance to voice their opinion,’ said Roy Butler, member for Barwon from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, on his social media stream.
Barilaro running scared
‘The NSW government’s move to fast-track a vote on the CSG Moratorium Bill yesterday is extraordinary, and a sign they know they don’t have community support for their position on this issue,’ said Mr Fields.
‘What we saw in NSW Parliament was extraordinary. The NSW Liberal National government abandoned their entire parliamentary agenda to force this legislation to a vote to avoid the community campaign they knew was coming to pressure regional Nationals MPs on the bill.
‘The NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro was running scared, he didn’t want to give time for regional communities to lobby local Nationals MPs because he knows the concern about the coal seam gas industry on the ground in those communities is genuine and deeply held.
‘This vote tells you all you need to know about the priorities of the leadership of the NSW National Party these days. John Barilaro and his leadership team are putting the interests of mining companies and big political donors ahead of protecting water and farming communities.
‘The Nationals are on the wrong side of history when it comes to coal seam gas. They had a chance to stand up for regional communities and to protect water. They sided with the gas industry that has done so much to undermine agriculture and regional communities and economies.’
The Bill was opposed by local Nationals in both the Upper and Lower Houses of NSW Parliament.
Nationals stripping jobs from rural Australia
Mr Butler also highlighted the impact that the National Party policy has had on rural Australians.
‘I won’t be lectured by a government that has systemically stripped jobs out of regional NSW, and is looking to support a project to save face’, he said yesterday following the debate in the Lower House.
‘I remained true to my word that I would not support any extractive industry that puts water, our most precious resource, at risk.
‘I am pro-jobs and pro-manufacturing, but if we fail to adequately protect our groundwater, and the communities and industries that rely on it, all the jobs in the world won’t matter.
‘NSW needs only look to interstate examples to see how badly things can go, once vibrant farming communities have been stripped bare by the Coal Seam Gas industry – I don’t want that for Narrabri, I don’t want that for any community in this state.
‘All we have is a promise of a few hundred jobs, but nobody can put a hard number on the amount. The gas industry is highly mechanised, and evidence from other states shows us that gas fields affect jobs in other industries like agriculture.
‘Gambling with water should not be considered when it is central to everything we do. There are alternate sources of energy – including better policy – but no alternatives to water.’
Didn’t ban CSG – held government to account
Mr Field said, ‘This bill didn’t ban coal seam gas. It put in place a moratorium until the protections for water and regional communities were ensured. To vote against those protections is to put at risk water resources like the Great Artesian Basin and the farming communities who rely on it.
‘A Parliamentary Inquiry late last year found half of the recommendations of the NSW Chief Scientist’s 2014 Independent Report into the Coal Seam Gas industry had not been implemented despite the government having publicly accepted all recommendations and recognising they were essential if the risk of the coal seam gas industry could be mitigated.
‘That’s why this bill was necessary. It held the government to their own commitments. Instead they’ve walked away from protecting water, ensuring farmers would be insured against risks, and are exposing regional communities to a legacy of pollution.
‘The Nationals have lost five seats in the last two elections off the back of their neglect for farmers and their unwillingness to stand up and protect land and water. It speaks volumes that many of the Nationals MPs in areas where coal seam gas has been an issue didn’t even speak on the bill yesterday.
‘This campaign now moves to the Independent Planning Commission which is expected to receive a formal referral to consider the Santos Narrabri Gas Project as early as this month.’
Saffin and Franklin face off
Local Labor MP Janelle Saffin slammed the the NSW Nationals for voting against the Private Members Bill that would have permanently protected the Northern Rivers from harmful CSG mining.
‘Byron Bay-based Parliamentary Secretary for Energy and the Arts Ben Franklin and his fellow Nationals did a 360-degree turn last night hoping no one would notice and sought to turn the guns on others,’ Ms Saffin said.
‘In 2015 at the Nationals’ State Conference, Ben Franklin seconded a motion put by Chris Gulaptis, calling for the need to recognise widespread opposition to CSG and to buy back CSG licences.
Ben “Fracker” Franklin
‘Ben Franklin then warned that a solution was needed otherwise the Nationals could lose the seats on the Northern Rivers for a generation, and that “if we do not get this right the people of the Northern Rivers will not listen to us on anything else”.
‘You got that right Ben as you lost another seat, Lismore, in 2019 and went backwards, and the people of the Northern Rivers will never listen to you or your Nationals mates again.
‘You had the chance to protect the water, the farmers, the agricultural industry in the Northern Rivers and Narrabri, and you ran away from it.
‘Ben “Fracker” Franklin should pack up his Byron Bay digs and head back to Sydney, because he has sealed his fate by putting city interests ahead of country people.’
Ms Saffin accused the Nationals of not being serious about protecting our people, our water, our farmlands and our agricultural jobs in the Northern Rivers from the harmful effects of CSG.
However, Mr Franklin has responded stating that Ms Saffin is a hypocrite.
‘It was the previous State Labor government – that Janelle Saffin was part of – that approved all of the CSG exploration licences for the North Coast.
‘They were distributed like confetti, totally ignoring the views of local communities,’ he said.
‘For Saffin to now pretend she played no part in her own government’s legacy is treating her constituents like fools.
‘I am proud to be a member of a government that bought back every single CSG licence on the North Coast after strong advocacy by North Coast Nationals MPs.
‘The State government has given an iron clad commitment that it will never allow CSG mining to occur on the North Coast. That commitment stands.
‘However there may well be other parts of the state where gas exploration is appropriate – as long as it is independently assessed and given appropriate environmental approvals.
‘We are on a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. That will require high levels of storage, long distance transmission and much better efficiencies in how we use energy.
‘But as that transition occurs we will need an energy source that can react swiftly to changes in the output of wind and solar – one that is relatively low in emissions and only operates when needed. Natural gas will play that critical role in the short term.’
♦National Party member for Tweed Geoff Provost didn’t respond to questions on his support of CSG mining in NSW.