Labor and independent councillors in Marrickville decided on June 19 against holding a poll on coal seam gas at the same time as the local council elections.
This is despite the fact that the council has had two unanimous votes against coal seam gas exploration.
Non-binding polls are available to all councils and have been used to gauge community opinion on a variety of topics.
Greens councillor Cathy Peters put the urgency motion, inspired by Lismore City Council’s decision to poll its local residents about coal seam gas production and exploration.
Lismore has been at the centre of many rallies and protests against coal seam gas, but the council wanted a more scientific measure of community opinion.
Marrickville council's general manager said there were enough budget funds to call on the NSW Electoral Commission to conduct the poll.
Peters' motion was moved as an urgency motion because the general manager said council needed time to prepare the “yes” and the “no” case to the question: “Do you support coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and production in the Marrickville Local Government area?”
Three activists from Stop CSG Sydney spoke in favour of the motion.
Labor councillor Laura Wright said that she could not agree, because councillors were “elected to represent the community and the council has a clear position on CSG”. She said she could “not condone” spending an estimated $40,000 on a community poll, and that such funds would be better used on basic services.
Independent councillor Dimitri Thanos also said he “totally disagreed” with CSG, but “we don’t need to conduct a poll to know the community’s feelings”. He foreshadowed a motion reaffirming council’s opposition to CSG – which was passed after the poll motion went down three votes to six.
Independent Victor Macri also opposed Peters’ motion. ALP councillor Sam Iskander said “polls don’t make any difference one way or another”. He then undercut this by asking: “Is this the only important matter we have in council?”
Greens councillors Fiona Byrne and Peter Olive tried in vain to get the councillors to change their position. Peters said CSG was “probably the most serious environmental issue we as a council have ever faced”.
She said the point of the poll was to allow community members to have a say in a very important issue “in a major way”.
After Peter’s motion was lost, she put another one suggesting council write to the Local Government Association (LGA) asking it to conduct a poll of Local Government Associations. Thanos and the Greens voted for this motion.
The council passed a further statement saying the council opposed coal seam gas mining in the LGA.
[Pip Hinman is an activist in Stop CSG Sydney and was one of the three activists who addressed council in support of the poll.]