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.