As Kim Jameson reported, The Greens have ramped up the pressure on their key issue of Coal Seam Gas today, as the election enters its closing days. Similarly, Lock The Gate Alliance made an intervention around mining tenements under Brisbane’s Western Suburbs, which we’ve assessed in a post.
Polls have consistently shown that Coal Seam Gas is a controversial issue among Queenslanders, with majorities opposed to the industry. Yet whether or not the issue is a vote changer is yet to be demonstrated. Significant here is the fact that, as I suggested last week, the positions of the major parties, the ALP and the Liberal National Party, are not too far apart, though there are important nuances.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that all stakeholders line up on one side or other of the issue.
Cr Ray Brown, Mayor, Western Downs Regional Council
Councillor Brown described himself as an environmentalist, but saw a possibility of co-existence between agriculture and Coal Seam Gas. The Mayor felt that enforcement of regulation was key, as was an appropriate recognition that some land is simply not suitable for extractive industries. He displayed a sensitivity to the range of views among citizens, and some of the potential adverse impacts on the environment – particularly around salt and water.
The Mayor reminded people that the headwaters of the Murray-Darling Basin are on the Western Downs.
Councillor Brown, who himself faces re-election on April 28, did not think that either the Labor Party or the LNP would make major changes to the policy settings around Coal Seam Gas. He described the biggest question as whether the government would be “blinded by the royalty cheque”. For Ray Brown, the impact on people, communities and the environment needs balancing with the wealth created by mining and CSG and the revenues it generates.
We also spoke to farmer Ian Hayllor.
Ian Hayllor, Chair of the Basin Sustainability Alliance
Hayllor describes his concerns as revolving around sustainability, and the cultivation of an appropriate balance between development, existing land use, and communities. The Alliance lobbies government and corporates.
Hayllor is conscious of the need to avoid a boom/bust cycle, pointing out that the gas industry has a life cycle of thirty years, but that agriculture may continue for a thousand. Hayllor sounded a note we heard again and again, which is a lack of science and data to properly assess risks. For him, the understanding of the groundwater impact is key. Hayllor believes that communication between companies and the community is not ideal. Ian has some faith that the process is improving, and in particular feels that the Federal Government’s Interim Expert Scientific Committee is a good sign.
Interestingly, Hayllor also feels that there is potential for some investment in renewable energy technologies in the Surat Basin.
When the dust settles on the Queensland election campaign next week, the voices of moderates in the debate will play as important a role as those who are strongly for or against Coal Seam Gas exploration and extraction.
Dr Mark Bahnisch