About three years ago, when I first started to become really aware of the threats presented by coal seam gas mining, I happened to meet up with Bob Debus. Some of you will remember him as NSW’s longest serving Environment Minister. Such was his capability that he typically held 4 ministries at any one time. Here in the Blue Mountains where we were lucky enough to have him as our local Member, he was affectionately known as “the Minister for Everything”. During part of that time I was president of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, and we met fairly often about various issues.
In 2007 he went on to serve as a Minister in the Federal government. He retired from politics in 2009, and was subsequently named a Member of the Order of Australia for his contributions to legal and environmental reforms, and to the community. He was a politician of rare integrity.
When I met him that afternoon 3 years ago, I asked him whether he thought there was any chance of stopping coal seam gas mining. He looked me straight in the eye and said, very deliberately “Only if the people take to the streets”.
I still remember how my heart dropped, thinking that Australians would never do that, especially in sufficient numbers to stop the coal industry.
But now it seems we are rallying, at least in the country areas where mining is so obviously threatening farms and towns. In the northern rivers area whole towns are indicating their total opposition to coal seam gas and, recently, thousands of people rallied to the Bentley Blockade to stop Metgasco. The townspeople of Bulga stopped the expansion of the Warkworth mine twice in court. At the Leard Blockade, in spite of bitter weather, people are continuing to come, many to get arrested in actions which are blocking Whitehaven Coal’s roads and slowing down work on the Maules Creek mine and the clearing of the Leard State Forest.
So I recently decided to email Bob to ask whether he would mind if I quoted him, even anonymously as “a distinguished retired Federal and State politician”, as having made that prophetic statement. I didn’t want to make any difficulties for him. I just wanted to help folks understand how totally up to the people it is to take action on this issue, given the degree of government capture by the miners.
His reply came back within 2 hours: “Please feel free to quote me by name”.
For a politician of his stature and experience to see the issue in these terms should be seen, I think, as a wake-up call to all Australians. It is not only country folks who will be affected if this fire sale by our government of our land and water to the mining industry is allowed to go unfettered. We in the city will pay the price too, as our precious groundwater is polluted and wasted, our prime agricultural land alienated and our state forests destroyed. Even Sydney’s drinking water catchment is under threat of CSG mining.
There seems to be no limit to what mining companies are demanding, but even more disturbingly, no limit to what our government is prepared to give them. Our laws and regulations appear to be constantly being rewritten for short-term financial gains to big, mostly foreign mining companies, and it is the people who should be protecting the long-term interests of the citizens of NSW who are responsible.
We need to be really clear about this: it is our own government which is responsible for the destruction and despoilation being wreaked on NSW by the mining industry. We tend to blame the miners, but really they are just doing what such businesses always do, pushing for their own vested interests.
It is to our own politicians that we need to sheet home the blame. They are the ones who are responsible for signing over 80% of NSW to mining and exploration licences, some of them over our best farmland and special wild places, with inadequate protection for either. There are weasel word regulations, of course, but if they should happen to inconvenience the miners, well, the government seems to just change them, as we saw recently when Minister Pru Goward approved changes to Whitehaven’s Biodiversity Management Plan to allow winter clearing of the Leard State Forest, putting hibernating animals at terrible risk in the face of the bulldozers.
It was only legal action taken by a group of local farmers that stopped the clearing. The people, taking to the streets, or to the law courts. The people, rising up in outrage, to protect the places they love against coal and gas. The people, taking desperate action to defend their land against their own politicians, who for their own reasons seem to have abdicated their responsibility to the citizens who elected them and rolled over to the miners.
It’s time for we, the people, to start to do what one of our few politicians with real integrity has told us we need to do if we are to control this wholesale destruction of our state.
We need to tell our politicians, in large numbers, of our outrage at their betrayal of our long-term interests. We need to demand from them significant changes to our mining laws and regulations that currently serve the interests of the mining industry at the expense of the environment and people of NSW. Communities should not have to be constantly fighting these David and Goliath battles against the combined might of industry and their government, only to have the laws changed if they manage, against all odds, to win.
And last, but by no means least, we need to demand a real and committed vision of a sustainable energy future for NSW and its people.
To finish on a lighter note, I wrote a song about this recently, and my family and some friends sang and recorded it. It’s very amateurish, but sung from the heart!
Unfortunately I couldn’t sing – I was literally flat out having an allergic reaction to my grand-children’s guinea pigs, but here’s a photo of me and the musicians, son-in-law Craig on guitar and grandson Tom on banjo, who didn’t get into the video because one of the cameras wasn’t working.