‘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.