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The Right of Reply the Australian Financial Review couldn't find the space to publish

This is Lock the Gate's opinion piece that the Australian Financial Review have said they didn't have space to publish. It follows last Monday's (August 18) front page story "Facts v Fiction: busting CSG myths" that then spilled to a two-page feature inside the paper and was bolstered by the paper's main editorial comment headed " Ignore anti-CSG scare campaigns." The AFR story was also widely republished in Fairfax Media papers in NSW and Qld. Lock the Gate requested the right of reply but alas the paper simply couldn't find the room in print or online for this 650 word piece. 

Lock the Gate is not a scare campaign; it's democracy in action

By Phil Laird

The CSG industry has attempted to buy public opinion through spin and to buy influence through political donations.  But while it may have succeeded in buying political favors and approvals it is failing to win the hearts and minds of the community.

The people of regional Australia and particularly those whose communities are being pegged by the gas companies are saying “No” to fracking and other forms of unconventional gas mining in growing numbers.

For their trouble they are pilloried and attacked by the CSG industry and the Minerals Council and are subjected to allegations of “scare campaigns” such as that aired in Monday’s Australian Financial Review (August 18, 2014).

Meanwhile, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has exposed a web of corrupt deals surrounding mining approvals in NSW.  It has shown that the planning system in NSW is broken and the basic rights of a community to have a say in their future has been taken from them.  The result is a loss of public confidence not only in the mining industry but also in our political leaders and the political process.

Communities recognise that unconventional gas mining comes with considerable risks.  A recent court case in Texas has awarded nearly $US3 million in compensation to a family whose health has been negatively affected by unconventional gas drilling. 

In the Tara area of southern Queensland gas giant QGC has been quietly buying up the properties of people who have suffered chronic health complaints as a result of living in a gas field. The buyouts are a tacit acknowledgement that gas fields and human health do not mix well. Each of those who have been bought out has been made to sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure their future silence.

The CSG industry itself admits that farmers in parts of southern Queensland are expected to lose their bore water within two years as a direct result of CSG mining.

At this stage 85 bores are in the immediate affected area and are expected to drop dramatically. 'Making good', if it is possible, will incur exorbitant costs and is likely to involve drilling even deeper bores into different aquifers.  Already there is evidence that the companies are working hard to wriggle out of their obligations to those impacted.  In the driest inhabited continent on earth, communities have every right to ask why we would put our water resources at risk for a non-renewable industry with a relatively short life expectancy.

Rural landscapes are being transformed into industrial zones, with a network of gas wells, roads, pipelines, compressor stations, wastewater storages and electricity transmission lines.  People are forced to deal with industrial noise and light.  Towns become dominated by fly-in/fly-out workforces.

The community will bear the costs of CSG, but the benefits will largely accrue to overseas shareholders.  The developments of the massive ports at Gladstone to export CSG from Queensland were done without so much as a cost benefit analysis. The result is that gas costs for ordinary Australians and domestic industries are set to rise dramatically to match international pricing. Manufacturing Australia estimates that close to 100,000 direct manufacturing jobs may be lost as a result. 

Communities are just asking for a fair go - to have a say about what happens to their community, their local economies and their environment.  They're not anti-mining.  They just want a full and open public debate, a rigorous and independent scientific analysis of the risks before the damage is done, and a level playing field that isn't stacked against them via political donations and influence peddling.

This nation needs to ensure its long-term food security by looking after its prime agricultural land, its rural communities and its precious groundwater resources.  Communities are simply not prepared to put all that at risk without question for an industry whose track record in community consultation and good corporate citizenship is sadly lacking.


Phil Laird is a farmer from north-west NSW and the national coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance.

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