It has been a long time since I have blogged on my good friend, Mr 72%. He has been Very Busy as the Deputy Premier, especially during the times he needs to be the Acting Premier (and I am heroically resisting commenting on this notion of him acting), which makes him Extremely Busy and also Very Important. At the recent centenary celebration of one of our churches, he was choppered in and out of the town, which both proved the above claim and produced a reverent awe in the National Party voters of the area.
But today he has intruded himself again on my notice by a series of rather reckless quotes made at the National Party conference, dutifully tweeted by the deputy editor of The Land newspaper.
The Land is the newsprint bible of the rural sector in Australia. It is reasonably conservative, and describes itself as “breaking agricultural industry, political and general news for people and businesses in rural New South Wales, regional and corporate Australia” They currently do not like comedian Dave Hughes for standing up for animal welfare, they would like Jamie Oliver to intervene on farmers’ behalf with Woolworths, and they have a blogger who wants to suggest not all National Party members think free trade is a good idea.
It has also been dutifully reporting that farmers in Northern NSW have been protesting the mining of CSG in their area. The company Santos' coal seam operations in north-western NSW have been accused of contaminating two water bores near exploration wells, and that one of their wastewater ponds is leaking.
But the big news in the Northern Rivers area has been the blockade at Bentley, where company Metgasco had exploration wells. Literally thousands of protesters have been engaged in protesting the mining activity of Metgasco.
The Bentley area has ‘tight sands’ gas, a form of unconventional gas similar to coal seam gas where lots of wells are required to produce a commercial flow. It apparently needs to be fracked out, a risky procedure. Metgasco planned to commence activity around April this year.
The Land (http://www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/general/news/all-eyes-on-bentley/2699173.aspx) reports that since January, anti-CSG protesters have been camped on a farm near the Rosella site, with numbers growing to around 3000 people at times. The Bentley Blockade website notes that “the local community and the Northern Rivers community in general is overwhelmingly opposed to gasfield industrialisation at Bentley. In a community-run survey, 84.5% of Bentley locals voted to have their lands and roads Gasfield Free. In a council poll in 2012, 87% of Lismore residents voted “NO’ to CSG (http://csgfreenorthernrivers.org/rosella/).
It is important to note that this protest was initiated locally. In an article in The Northern Star newspaper (10th Feb 2014), Mr Ted Hoddinott, a Bentley local, predicted that the last planned protest would be the “mother of all dust-ups”. He went on to say that the local Knitting Nannas (they staged a four-hour sit-in outside Parliament House as well) had offered counselling support for those who got arrested, and a Lismore hairdresser had offered free haircuts for anyone who appeared in court. He also said locals felt "abandoned" by politicians and the prospect that CSG was "polarising" the community.
Also involved was the alliance Lock the Gate, which is a national coalition of community groups from across Australia who have united to protect their land, water and their future from coal and gas mining. Across NSW, CSG exploration and mining, and proposed expansion of existing coal mines has galvanised farmers, environmentalists and ordinary people who think farmers should have a choice about their land, to come together and protest against the bully-boy tactics of large mining companies. That they were odd bedfellows was remarked on, but traditionally National voting farmers felt let down by the party meant to represent them.
In May this year, Metgasco had its drilling licence suspended by NSW Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts. The company was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) due to inadequate community consultation. They have since apparently given up and decided to pull out and cut their losses.
Ecstatic residents and protesters celebrated. In an article on May 15 2014, the SMH (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/bentley-protesters-celebrate-as-gas-drilling-suspended-20140515-zrde8.html), interviewed various people who had camped there to help stop the drilling. It included local councillors, scientists, youth workers, business owners and farmers, united in the common cause of preserving the environment, and arable land clean water for everyone’s use.
None of the articles I read (and there were a lot) mentioned protesters were particularly nasty or violent.
Enter the National Party Conference and Mr 72%. On June 12, the deputy editor of The Land dutifully sat and tweeted various quotes from the conference, including the comments of our very own National Party leader, the Very Important Mr 72%.
Apparently his heart was broken by seeing that all those professional bludgers appearing to have a win. He flexed his muscles and stated “we were prepared to go head to head with that protest group” and he alleged stated that “they” (who are this ‘they’?) were bullied and harassed by some protestors.
This Twitter image was placed on Facebook by a friend of mine whose family had been involved in the Bentley protest. Having an established connection with Mr 72%, I promptly tweeted him and asked why he felt farmers had no right to protest. He replied promptly, claiming he was taken out of context.
@AndrewStoner Surely farmers have the right to protest about coal & CSG ruining water & land near their properties #BentleyBlockade - 17 Jun
@shenstone121 yes they do, I was quoted completely out of context
I queried this context.
@AndrewStoner I would be interested in what contxt these remarks were made. You were tweetd as calling protesters bullies & bludgers. - 17 Jun
@shenstone121 I said the farmer had been bullied, that there were some good people amongst the protestors but a small core of extremists
Mmmmmmm. Not sure I can reconcile the explanation with the tweets. I imagine Ms Cairney may be in some trouble now.
The National Party are meant to be the party of farmers, and of the rural areas of Australia. That is, until those pesky farmers objected to having their farms overrun with CSG wells and their water contaminated or drained away by large mining companies who were looking to make large profits. Far from representing said farmers in their electorates, the National Party backed the mining companies.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I was given a scolding by Warren Truss, the Federal leader of the Nationals, for wanting to ruin Australia by abolishing mining subsidies. (We were picketing at a local function that he was attending ... he stopped to talk with us before he went inside.) In vain did I plead we could invest in renewable energy and viable farm land instead. Mining, I was told, keeps Australia afloat. You heard it here, farmers of Australia. Mining will trump you and your farms every time. The god of the economy is more important than your arable lands and clean water. Eat coal, and be grateful for it.
Google ‘farmers protest National Party’ and you will get around 457,000 hits where farmers feel let down and aggrieved. No wonder they have found support in the strange bedfellows of the Greens and environmentalists and activists.
It is hard to know whether these community coalitions will ultimately be successful in the campaigns. But politicians – especially the National Party – would do well to take note that the anti-CSG movement has created a new and much more diverse and vocal community of campaigners that just may expose them for the anti-agrarian, pro-industrialists they really are.