A RISING tide of opposition to coal seam gas exploration and mining is surging through South Gippsland.
This was made blatantly obvious at last Wednesday afternoon’s public presentation sessions at South Gippsland Shire Council, when upwards of 100 people packed into Council Chambers in Leongatha. There was standing room only for some, while others had to make do with restricted viewing and hearing of proceedings from outside the chamber.
Although there were other items on the agenda, the vast majority were there to make known their antipathy to coal seam gas mining, largely on the grounds of the danger they fear it poses to the environment. Half a dozen or so speakers rose in turn to address the shire councillors. Each time they were cheered by the crowd in the gallery. There were similar numbers at the evening presentation sessions, where again coal seam gas was the hot topic under discussion.
Shire Governance Officer Natasha Berry said later that it was unfortunate that Council had not been given sufficient notice of the crowd numbers expected at the presentation sessions so that a larger venue could have been arranged, which would have been more comfortable for everyone. Although she was given some inkling of the expected turn-out on Monday, by then it was too late to change venues for the public presentation sessions, try as she did. However, mindful of the fact that Cr Kieran Kennedy will be putting forward a motion relating to coal seam gas at the Ordinary Council Meeting this afternoon (Wednesday June 27), a larger venue has been booked for the meeting – the Leongatha RSL, which is just down the road from Council Chambers. The meeting will begin just after 2pm to allow people to settle themselves in the changed venue.
At Wednesday’s afternoon presentation session, the mayor, Cr Warren Raabe, took the wind out of the lobbyists’ sails somewhat with his prefacing remarks, in which he emphasised Council’s limited opportunities for input into the coal seam gas exploration/mining debate since the State Government is the decision making body.
“Our role is merely a support role,” he said. “Council can’t call a moratorium…Your enthusiasm in coming to us is misplaced.”
He circulated copies of an information pack outlining the steps Council has taken so far to address the objections of concerned citizens to coal seam gas exploration and mining. These include:
- Written support for Bass Coast Shire Council’s Notice of Motion to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) State Council which, broadly speaking, requests the MAV lobby the state government on CSG exploration and mining;
- Consideration of a Coal Seam Gas Issues Paper – May 2012;
- A submission to the Department of Primary Industries regarding Leichhardt Resources’ application for a CSG exploration licence in the Wonthaggi to Walkerville area;
- Encouragement of concerned residents and landowners to also make submissions to the DPI, as the authority assessing CSG exploration licences.
Cr Raabe reiterated Council’s limited powers in relation to CSG licences in his Mayor’s Message, saying:
“Council, in its advocacy role, is here to support the community in their plea to the Department of Primary Industries to be judicious and protective of our environmental and economic resources. There continues to be a number of people who perceive that Council has the decision making power on coal seam gas: and again we don’t, but the public record clearly shows that our decisions have been unanimously supportive of the community’s position and we stand strong alongside our neighbouring Bass Coast Shire Council in urging the State Government to carefully consider the wide ranging ramifications of these exploration applications and to respond appropriately.”
Speakers last Wednesday took the mayor’s points on board. However, they still spoke up about their fierce opposition to coal seam gas mining. Time after time they cited the clean, green environment as their motivation for living in South Gippsland and suggested to Council that CSG mining – or even exploration – jeopardised what is summed up in the well-known South Gippsland Shire catchphrase, urging visitors to “come for the beauty, stay for the lifestyle”.
They urged Council to support Cr Kennedy’s motion, which calls for Council to write to the Victorian State Government for a moratorium on the approval of coal seam gas exploration and extraction licences in South Gippsland until more information is widely available.
Wonthaggi geologist Mike Cleeland added further ammunition to the case for a moratorium by quoting scientific data which suggests that over the last ten years there has been a sixfold increase in earthquakes in areas of America in which the fracking process associated with CSG mining has occurred. He said there was no question the two were related. His point was particularly pertinent coming as it did the day after a 5.4 magnitude quake centred near Moe disturbed much of Gippsland.
With CSG exploration licences being considered for much of South Gippsland Shire – Wilsons Promontory National Park is one of the few exceptions – it was hardly surprising that crowd members last Wednesday came from all over the shire. The Mirboo North area was particularly well represented, but there were also speakers from Venus Bay and Korumburra. Some were there as individuals, but others were members of some of the lobby groups which have sprung up to ensure the voices of the community are heard.
And there are a lot of voices wanting to be heard. Nearly 150 people attended a forum at the Tarwin Lower Hall earlier this month at which guest speakers from Friends of the Earth, Doctors for the Environment and the Environmental Defenders Office Victoria, as well as a landowner who has experienced CSG mining firsthand, outlined their concerns about the industry.
Then last Monday Cr Kennedy was a special guest at the meeting of the Foster Community Association, where he screened the film ‘The Battle for a CSG Free Northern Rivers,’ about the grassroots protest movement which rose up in response to CSG exploration/mining on farming communities in NSW and Queensland.
Cr Kennedy has support for his call for a moratorium in Cr Jeanette Harding. She organised a screening of the same film on Monday of this week at Welshpool Hall. The Foster Community Association voted to support Cr Kennedy’s call for a moratorium and Cr Kennedy said he would encourage residents to attend the council meeting at which he will be putting forward his motion.
“We need public pressure to encourage councillors to vote for the moratorium,” he said.
FCA president Larry Giddy suggested residents who have concerns about coal seam gas mining write letters to politicians and the press making their views known.