Stick together & act together to stop CSG

Organisers say 8000-10,000 people joined the Protect our Land and Water rally on May 1 in Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

Sydney’s May 1 rally, called by the NSW Farmers Federation to “Protect our Land and Water” from coal seam gas (CSG) and irresponsible mining, represented an incredible diversity and unity from communities across NSW. Organisers said 8000-10,000 people took to the streets, making it easily the biggest action to stop CSG to date in Australia.

The campaign to halt CSG reflects very real concern about the damaging impacts of the industry. Anger is growing at the NSW government’s refusal to listen to the people and its continued support for the industry.

People across the state are standing together to demand an immediate freeze on the industry until a full investigation can investigate the potential damage to water, productive land and communities.

That the Country Women’s Association took to the streets for the rally for the first time in its 90 year history is just one indication of the breadth of this movement.

The risks associated with CSG are simply too important to ignore and communities won’t be distracted by petty attempts by the government to distract and divide us. The turn out on May 1 reaffirmed this in spectacular fashion.

In a recent letter to regional newspapers, NSW Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher tried to drive a wedge between farmers and campaign groups such as GetUp! and Stop CSG Illawarra. The big turnout is a good indication that the broad unity that exists in the campaign is working.

Clearly this is a government lashing out, nervous at the growing opposition to its plans. This was the latest in many attempts by Hartcher to deflect attention from the real issues.

He is only generating more anger at the O’Farrell government by doing so. His government continues to support the development of the CSG industry, putting water systems, land and our health at risk. This is what people involved in the campaign are clear on.

Hartcher's letter said: “Stop CSG Illawarra organisers are members of the Socialist Alliance. As listed on the group’s website, policies include ‘sharply reducing cattle and sheep numbers to minimise methane emissions per head’; ‘permit[ting] land clearing only in exceptional circumstances and only when offset by the reforestation of equal areas of similar native vegetation;’ and ‘a shift away from fossil-fuel based chemical pesticides and fertilisers’.”

What he failed to mention is that Stop CSG Illawarra has organisers from across the political spectrum. The team includes company directors, self-made business people, students, truck-drivers, teachers and retirees.

Stop CSG Illawarra’s inclusive approach to involving people, regardless of which party they might support or which footy team they play for, has been a major factor in its success.

It is important the campaign continues to welcome and encourage involvement from members of all political parties, while making it clear the organisation itself is independent and democratic.

Stop CSG Illawarra has active members who are not members of any party, along with members of the Greens, the Socialist Alliance and the Labor and Liberal parties. All of these members should be congratulated for their participation in this vital campaign.

Our strength is in unity and numbers, and the campaign needs to continue growing to match the influence and resources of the CSG industry.

Only a very broad group of people, with deep roots in the community, could achieve what Stop CSG Illawarra has achieved. Highlights include the letterboxing of more than 250,000 information leaflets and the mass community mobilisations on Austinmer Beach and the Sea Cliff Bridge last year, both of which attracted more than 3000 people.

These are the biggest environmental actions the Illawarra has ever seen. The Wollongong City Council — including Greens, Independents, Labor and Liberal members — voted unanimously to urge the NSW government to ban CSG in the water catchments. Local Labor MP Ryan Park led the push to change state Labor’s CSG policy to support a moratorium on exploration projects.

The community is united behind this important campaign while the minister tries to play divisive games.

The most popular chant on the day of the rally was “city and country, united we stand; protect our water, protect our land”.

Many speakers urged the community to stay united and resist attempts to turn on one another. We need to keep our focus on the issues.

Rural and urban communities are incensed that the government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy fails to make any land in NSW off-limits to CSG mining. GetUp!, Stop CSG Illawarra, the Socialist Alliance and the rest of the supporting groups agree.

All of us are taking part to protect our land, water, health and community.

There’s nothing more powerful than communities standing up together. The CSG industry, and the governments that support it, will not get away with jeopardising our natural resources if communities stick together and act together to put a stop to it.

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