How the Bentley blockade beat Metgasco

Saturday, May 17, 2014
The Bentley protest drew tens of thousands of supporters.

The NSW government's suspension of Metgasco's licence at Bentley in the Northern Rivers of NSW has lifted spirits across Australia.

For years, communities have been battling the bipartisan support for the unconventional gas industry's advance into prime agricultural land in NSW.

The licence has been only suspended, not cancelled.

Yet the decision is a vindication that people power — sustained mass community campaigning — can be a powerful force.

Curiously, NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts said the licence suspension was because Metgasgo had failed to consult the community.

This is certainly true, but the minister would have long been aware of the fierce and growing opposition to Metgasco's plans.

The Bentley blockade had a growing national profile and the government was in the final stages of preparing to send more than 800 police and riot squad officers to break it up.

Such was the indignation and resolve of the Bentley protectors that their call for help began mobilising people from across NSW and Queensland to join the fight.

It looked like the Bentley blockade would draw up to 10,000 people to peacefully face down police over May 17-18.

As news spread that several big media outlets were planning to bring in helicopters to take aerial shots of the mellee — police dragging “knitting nannas” away — the already badly tarnished NSW government had second thoughts.

On top of this, evidence had emerged that linked Metgasco to former Labor politician Eddie Obeid and Australian Water Holdings boss Nick Di Girolamo, of $3000 Grange fame. Roberts had no option but to refer the Metgasco licence to ICAC.

Metgasco is adamant it will be found to be in compliance with its licence conditions and will be back on site soon. But the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is concerned the decision sets a damaging precedent for resource development.

It would be a mistake to believe Metgasco's licence suspension only came about because of dodgy compliance.

If the Bentley protest had not drawn tens of thousands of supporters and raised consciousness about the irrevocable damage to water and land from an unregulated unconventional gas industry, the minister would not have been forced to act.

The protesters — also known as protectors — are reminding each other that the battle to get this licence, and all the others across NSW, revoked, is far from over.

The Socialist Alliance congratulates the Bentley blockade organisers and protectors: they have inspired new protectors to join the struggle for land and water against corporate greed.

Already there are reports that one of Metgasco's now thwarted rigs is heading to the Northern Territory. Santos is continuing to explore for gas in the NSW Pilliga forest.

The Bentley blockade shows how the community can mobilise to successfully protect water and land.

[Pip Hinman is a member of the Socialist Alliance and Stop CSG Sydney.]

From GLW issue 1009