‘Democracy is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing’ – H L Mencken
It’s Thursday October 31, 9am, and a gasfield free flash mob has packed Council’s chamber to support Council’s gasfield free shire submission to the state government.
A triumphant mood permeates the room while speakers call on councillors to support gasfield free inclusions into a letter to the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
Taking a stand against fossil fuel corporations was looking like a unanimous message from the crowd – but then a lone objector stood before the crowds and pooped on everyone’s feel-good bubble.
Belongil resident John Vaughan asked why Council was spending a ‘large amount of money’ on the motion when there were no coal seams in the Shire.
‘There are none in Tweed Shire and none in Ballina Shire,’ he said. ‘While I admire these people for their passion, it is not relevant to this shire.’
Mr Vaughan went on to say he spoke to Lock The Gate’s Ian Gaillard at the recent Metgasco AGM in Sydney.
‘I asked him why is Lock The Gate worried [about CSG] in the Tweed, Byron and Ballina shires. He dodged the question and when I said there’s no coal seams there, he said, “I know.” He said it was a “social movement”.’
There was a short pause while that sentiment sunk in, but then, well yes, that seems an entirely logical explanation. It appeared obvious to everyone in the room except one that this is largely a symbolic and social movement which is calling for a shift towards renewable energy.
Regardless, Mr Vaughan pushed on to repeat the same point again and again that, ‘enormous and vast resources’ were being spent on ‘something that wasn’t there.’
He suggested instead that Council find out whether there were coal seams in the area and report that to the community.
When asked by Cr Cameron if he represented anyone, he admitted he was a Metgasco shareholder. Laughter and heckles ensued. And when pushed on whether he supported CSG exclusion zones around towns, he eventually said ‘no’.
Mayor Simon Richardson later responded to Mr Vaughan’s claims that the submission would cost ‘enormous amounts of money.’ Cr Richardson said it probably would take staff ‘two hours at most to cut and paste,’ the submission, and that his presumption was completely unfounded.
Additionally a gasfield-free activist publicly thanked Mr Vaughn for his keen interest in saving Council money but then pointed out his ongoing court case with Council over rock works he instigated at his beachfront property.
When the issue was debated later in the day, Crs Alan Hunter, Di Woods and Chris Cubis spoke against supporting a gasfield free Shire.
‘Conceptually it’s not a problem,’ said Cr Hunter. ‘Food production and tourism should be protected, [but] we shouldn’t follow our emotions,’ he said. ‘A policy of saying “no” is limiting. I am concerned of cutting our supply and we need to be globally competitive.’ Cr Woods agreed. ‘I have signed the anti-fracking petitions… but if we discount gas altogether, what will we use? If you follow the chain to China where they make solar panels, it’s being made from gas. After coal, the only option is nuclear. I would rather have gas.’
Cr Chris Cubis said that while he agreed with some parts of the motion, he was concerned about other elements. ‘Friends of mine with farms outside the region are asking why we are spending money on this,’ he said.
‘There seems to be a lot of rhetoric being spread about.’
He added he would prefer resources spent elsewhere.
But as the mover of the motion, Cr cameron had the last word.
He said that petroleum exploration licences, held by Dart and the Aboriginal Land Council, still cover Byron Shire.
‘While the licences are in place, they allow a company to come in and explore. Council makes land use submissions on a regular basis and this is no different,’ he said. Crs Hunter, Woods and Cubis voted against the motion.
A decision on Bangalow’s historic weir was delayed after councillors all voted in favour of Cr Sol Ibrahim’s motion to wait for funding application results in December and the approval of a development application (DA), which is due in two weeks.
Caravan park grab
Fifth generation Brunswick heads resident Sean O’Meara questioned Council in public access about the state government’s latest attempts ‘to fleece the Brunswick Heads community of some of its best public foreshore land’. He told councillors he was hoping to ‘inspire you to keep your heads up and not be fooled, bluffed or tricked into dodgy compromises by the newly named NSW Crown Reserve Holiday Parks Trust, or as most of us remember them, Mr Jim Bolger and North Coast Holiday Parks.’
To see all of Thursday’s fun, the minutes are available at www.byron.nsw.gov.au.
The planning document that defines land usage, developments and zonings has been finalised by Byron Shire Council staff and is on its way to Sydney for state government approval.
It’s called the Local Environment Plan (LEP); councillors voted last Thursday to sign off on the 114-page policy, which is in accordance with state government requirements.
Council’s media spokesperson said it also corresponds with the shire-wide Development Control Plan (DCP), which is still being prepared.
But there are some omissions to the LEP – coastal, E2 and E3 environmental zonings were left out as the state has yet to finalise those parameters.
And it’s a policy that could see some movement in the real estate market: Council staff have included provisions enabling community title (CT) subdivision of approved multiple occupancy developments, which is again subject to state government approval.
Additionally Council will seek a future amendment to the LEP to allow two (detached) houses on rural land. While the minimum lot size is yet to be determined, it will be reported to Council prior to being sent to the NSW department of planning.
Mayor Simon Richardson said at Thursday’s Council meeting that he and general manager Ken Gainger recently met with NSW planning MP Brad Hazzard in Sydney and told him that funding advice for ground truthing, or mapping, had still not been received by Council from the planning department.
‘He was shocked to hear this,’ Cr Richardson said, and he expected Mr Hazzard to reply soon.
State coalition minister and Byron Bay resident, Don Page, is unsupportive of a 12,000-strong petition by residents calling for a north coast moratorium on coal seam gas
The widely anticipated petition was tabled in parliament last week after it reached 10,000 signatures.
Mr Page, who is the minister for the north coast, instead used parliament time to launch attacks on the region’s two federal Labor MPs and members of the public opposed to mining expansion.
It follows widespread opposition to CSG by communities throughout the north coast, including many declarations by towns and local councils against the industry taking a foothold. Protests against CSG continued last week with residents from Lismore and Richmond Valley rallying outside Metgasco’s offices and drill sites.
While defending his government’s unprecedented ‘tough’ restrictions on the industry, he accused ‘disingenuous individuals’ of conducting anti-coal seam gas surveys in residential locations in north coast towns, despite their knowing that his government, ‘already banned CSG activity in all NSW residential areas and in a two-kilometre buffer zone surrounding every residential area.’
But Richmond MP Justine Elliot hit back saying, ‘The Nationals betrayed the people of the north coast in supporting CSG mining’. She also challenged the CSG companies, saying if there are no coal seam reserves in her electorate then they should return their exploration licences.
And while Mr Page didn’t name Justine Elliott (Richmond MP) and Janelle Saffin (former Page MP), he told parliament, ‘it was a shameless electioneering tactic, initiated by two Labor federal members on the northern rivers in a desperate attempt to boost their chances in the recent federal elections.’
‘They stood in main streets gathering signatures and spreading alarm about coal seam gas – scaremongering to try to save their seats – in the full knowledge that coal seam gas companies had walked away from the north coast months before because our rules are so tough.
When asked by The Echo to clarify that statement given Metgasco are recommencing drilling near Casino, he said, ‘Metgasco have sealed all their CSG exploration wells and only have an interest in conventional natural gas.’
And with regard to the petition’s request to exempt the north coast from mining, Mr Page told parliament, ‘It is not good public policy to discriminate either for or against any particular geographic area of the state, no matter how close to paradise that part of the world might be.’
‘The government’s role is not to advocate on behalf of mining companies, but to have the regulatory framework that protects our land and water resources and our environment – something that Labor never did.’
During the debate, Lismore MP Thomas George also went on the attack, accusing former Page MP Janelle Saffin of allowing mining expansion while in office. ‘She was a member of the Legislative Council when the licences were issued for the northern rivers. They took the money and ran.’
But surprisingly Mr George then stated his support for fossil fuel expansion. ‘If we do not produce the extra energy needed in this state, especially in the northern rivers, major businesses such as the Northern Co-operative Meat Company will pack up and move over the border. They cannot survive without cheaper energy.’
Page challenged on renewables
Meanwhile Greens NSW MP John Kaye challenged MP Page’s sustainable credentials and vision for the Ballina electorate.
‘National Party MP Don Page says on his webpage that his vision for the electorate is to create a sustainable future for the whole community,’ Dr Kaye said. ‘[Mr Page] says he understands that this is about creating jobs by protecting the environment. The challenge for Mr Page is to show he is serious about the environment and local jobs by supporting our push for 100 per cent renewable NSW. Starting the transition now means that regional NSW can get ahead of the global competition and become leaders in clean energy solutions.’
When asked if he supports Dr Kaye’s 100 per cent renewable push, Mr Page told The Echo, ‘I stand by my long-standing commitment to renewable energy. Indeed I was a keynote speaker at a conference in Bangalow a few years ago, specifically on the importance of renewable energy to our future. Clearly it will take some time to transition to a 100 per cent renewables situation given both the Commonwealth and state objectives are to get to 20 per cent by 2020. I would like to see the Ballina electorate better those targets, which is entirely possible given our interest in renewables, the employment opportunities associated with such a focus, and not to mention the abundance of sunshine! I think our area can be a leader in renewables.’
Transmission line abandoned
The challenge comes as a proposed high-voltage transmission line from Tenterfield to Lismore was cancelled last week. The abandonment of the $250 million Bonshaw line, once dubbed ‘essential’ by electricity network provider TransGrid, is a victory for grassroots campaigning and follows on the heels of the cancellation of a similar line on the mid-north coast in April.
Dr Kaye will make his 100 per cent renewable presentation at the at the Ballina RSL Club on November 6 from 5.30pm and also at the Mullum Civic Centre on Thursday November 7 from 6pm.