Community pressure makes CSG an election issue

February 21, 2013
A protest outside NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell visit to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce & Industry, February 13. Photo: Peter B

When NSW members of parliament from both Labor and Coalition start campaigning against coal seam gas (CSG) — and the federal Labor Party starts musing that it might impose “strict regulations” on state governments to control the industry — you know that the movement against this dirty fossil fuel is starting to pack a punch.

CSG was hardly known two years ago. Today, the thought of it frightens people. Gas companies have poured millions into advertising to reassure people that the industry is safe — but it hasn’t worked.

The reason is that the movement against CSG has grown into the broadest, most sustained movement in Australia. It is non-party political, it is not just the Nationals, Bob Katter’s Australian party, the Greens, or the Socialist Alliance. It is all of these, and much more. Farmers and “townies” are clear that CSG is not worth the risk to our water, our health and our land.

Stop CSG Sydney was formed in St Peters when it became known that Dart Energy was intending to drill for gas just seven kilometres from the city and right next to homes, schools and parks.

To create awareness about the risks, the group has screened the film Gasland, held quiz nights, organised rallies on King Street in Newtown, and in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD. It has run petitions and written submissions on the sustainable use of our land and water; and created a human sign that involved 1000 people in spelling out “Stop CSG” in Sydney Park.

Members have spoken to churches, schools and many other community groups who want to know what is happening with the campaign. Last year Dart Energy declared it would not drill — and never intended to.

But without its licence being withdrawn, this area is still under threat. Dart Energy can also sell the licence on to another gas company.

Although there is now widespread concern about the effects of CSG, the industry has not given up — largely because it has the support of both Labor and Coalition governments. Federal environment minister Tony Burke just approved licences for AGL in northern NSW around Gloucester.

Paddy Manning, writing in the business pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, said the CSG gas bubble is not going to peak until 2016. In other words, the industry sees a window to push hard — and that’s what they’ll do, especially as coal exports slow.

This all means that the community also has to campaign hard in this election year. Groups have learned to share ideas, resources and experiences across the web and through alliances such as Lock the Gate and they will continue to do this.

They also have to help expand the anti-CSG campaign to places it has not yet reached — such as western Sydney, one of the front lines of the battle. The campaign has met the challenge of uniting farmers, environmentalists and townies. Building the campaign in western Sydney will contain challenges of a different type. Translating the anti-CSG material into several different languages could be an important way to involve diverse communities in the campaign.

There are a number of protests being planned for the western suburbs — partly initiated by the anti-CSG community groups and partly by councils that oppose it — such as Campbelltown city council.

Stop CSG Sydney has indicated interest in organising a pre-election protest rally — possibly in western Sydney and with support from a range of stop CSG groups there.

It could be one of the ways the community can put the pressure on both major parties to stop promoting CSG and instead agree to a moratorium on all CSG projects until the science is better understood and it is proven to be safe to our health and the environment.

[This is based on a speech Hinman gave to a forum in Sydney on February 18 called Richland, Wasteland — how coal and CSG are killing Australia", featuring Sharyn Munro, the author of Richland, Wasteland.]

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly named Arrow Energy as the company drilling for gas in St Peters.

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