“We can’t eat money, we need to save our future food,” seventh generation farmer Tim Duddy told a packed forum on February 6.
Organised by the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, the forum examined the impacts of coal and coal seam gas (CSG) activity on farming regions that make up Australia’s food bowl.
Duddy, a spokesperson for the Caroona Coal Action Group, outlined how NSW’s Liverpool Plains, despite being among the most productive farmland in Australia and producing 37% of all the cereals in Australia, is seriously threatened by coal and CSG mining. Duddy said this productive farmland is fragile and is linked by aquifers and surface flows to the Murray Darling Basin. Any damage from mining could devastate the region’s food and water supply.
Acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, Duddy noted: "We can learn from a civilisation that can live for 40,000 years and not destroy the land. Look what we've done in just over 200 years.
"If you take the money out of the equation, then these projects don't stand up on helping the community, on jobs, on wellbeing, on health. It is all spin," he said.
Another Liverpool Plains farmer, Rosemary Nankivell, gave a passionate account of organising a recent, successful blockade against CSG mining company Santos.
She hit out at the lies promoted by the CSG industry, saying the industry’s claim it will deliver jobs and economic riches don't stand up. "The only jobs are in the construction phase, the CSG companies boast they can run the operation from Brisbane," Nankivell said. “In terms of royalties, the industry gets five years royalty-free — and most gas is extracted in the first 18 months.”
Referring to the community blockade, Nankivell said she was frustrated that "an 80-year-old farmer has to sit in the road, and the state government is doing nothing." She said Liverpool Plains farmers "are prepared to put everything on the line, to face arrests" to stop CSG.
Doctors for the Environment’s Helen Redmond outlined the serious health impacts of CSG mining, including “the contaminents from drilling and fracking that exist in the water and in the air and affect all life”. Redmond said studies indicate “families living near CSG mines can get arsenic and benzene poisoning”. Redmond also outlined mental health stresses that can be attributed to CSG activity.
Asked about the NSW government’s treatment of wind power and CSG, Duddy said it was ridiculous companies are allowed to start a CSG mine 300 metres from a house, but not a wind turbine. Redmond said that, in contrast to CSG, there is no strong evidence that wind turbines cause health problems. Both expressed outrage that the government regulates wind power more tightly than CSG.