The campaign continues: Flashback to the Coonamble community march against CSG on 22 March 2014. Campaigner Anne Kennedy front right.
NATIONAL Party MPs from around NSW are bearing the brunt of a community backlash after a vote on the Coal Seam Gas Moratorium Bill was rushed through both houses of parliament in just over 24 hours.
The legislation introduced by Independent MP Justin Field was passed by the Legislative Council (Upper House) after 8.30pm on Wednesday 3 June, with the support of The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Labor, the Greens, Animal Justice and all independent MPs.
After swiftly reorganising their agenda, the Government then introduced the Bill to the Legislative Assembly at 8.30am the next morning where it was blocked by virtue of the coalition’s two seat majority.
Every Liberal and National MP in the Lower House voted against the Bill with the final tally 38 votes to 36.
NSW Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro said that the vote reflected MPs concerns about “downward pressure on job opportunities and upward pressure on gas prices and energy prices”.
Energy Minister Matt Kean also spoke against the proposed Moratorium and its impact on the approvals process for the Narrabri Gas Project.
Australian Associated Press reported Minister Kean as saying it “should be decided by science not politics.”
“That’s why it’s going through a rigorous, independent planning assessment process, like every project of that nature where there are considerable concerns in the community.”
The extraordinary speed with which the Bill was handled has drawn criticism from many quarters, including Coonamble’s own water campaigner Anne Kennedy, who says regional communities have been “betrayed” by the NSW Government.
“I am president of Artesian Bore Water Users Association, and on the committee of the Great Artesian Basin Advisory Group – and have been passionate about saving our priceless artesian water for several decades,” Mrs Kennedy said.
“If there is one good thing that came out of the recent years of terrible drought that we have suffered, it is the fact that suddenly everyone is realizing the incredible value of water.”
“All that this CSG Moratorium Bill was asking for was for a pause on CSG mining until all the Chief Scientist’s 16 recommendations (from her study in 2014), had been implemented,” she said.
“Had this CSG Moratorium Bill been passed, it would have given us breathing space to save our water and our land – and for Santos to enact the Chief Scientist’s recommendations.”
“I think the Nats have shown what traitors they are.”
The defeat of the CSG Moratorium Bill will also disappoint the Country Women’s Association of NSW who had condemned the government’s lack of action in implementing the Chief Scientist’s recommendations and adopted a policy position calling for a ban on unconventional gas extraction and production.
The failure of the Bill ensures that the Narrabri Gas Project can progress through the approval process.
On Tuesday 9 June the President of the NSW Farmers Association, James Jackson, expressed his organisation’s “deep reservations that it [Santos’ Narrabri CSG project] can go ahead safely.”
“We don’t have a policy of specifically supporting a moratorium but we certainly want all the caveats of the Chief Scientist to be fully complied with,” Mr Jackson told the Coonamble Times.
“We’re very concerned about the potential damage to aquifers and the significant third party impacts.”
“These CSG projects have not had a good history of managing the water aquifers they’re going through or using.”
Mr Jackson said that he has found very little support for the CSG industry among the many NSW Farmers Association members and regional community members he has spoken to during his term as President.
“There’s a huge political risk with this,” he said. “It’s a very small minority who support it.”
“The National Party are wedged on this – obviously the Liberal Party are putting pressure on for this to be expedited and approved,” Mr Jackson said.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment are currently finalising an Assessment Report for the highly contentious project to be forwarded to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).
The IPC have been tasked by the Government to make a decision within 12 weeks.