A policy shift by NSW’s state Labor party has underlined the growing political traction being achieved by the campaign for a moratorium on coal seam gas developments.
It has also highlghted the stark contrasts that now exist in CSG policy between state Labor parties in Queensland and NSW, where much of Australia’s CSG industry developments are currently focused.
New South Wales Labor leader John Robertson this week announced a new policy of supporting calls for a moratorium on coal seam gas licences, the issuing of coal seam gas extraction licenses and applications to expand existing operations.
The party’s view is that until a water-tight regulatory framework is in place based on independent scientific research and conclusive evidence, the Government should not be allowing CSG extraction to proceed.
The stance is in direct contrast to that of the Queensland ALP, which has resisted ongoing calls from landholder and environmental groups for a moratorium to be placed on CSG industry expansion until a genuinely independent investigation of likely impacts is conducted.
While acknowledging that negative impacts cannot be ruled out, the Queensland Labor Government has encouraged rapid CSG industry growth to continue, preferring an adaptive policy regime that grows with the industry and requires resource companies to “make good” any damage they are proven to have caused after the event.
However, rural and environmental lobby groups are uniformly concerned that the regulations and monitoring procedures are not keeping pace with the breakneck speed of industry expansion.
The Lock the Gate Alliance of environmentalists and landholders has been urging property owners affected by CSG developments to lock their gates to prevent resource company staff from accessing their properties.
Alliance president Drew Hutton says a moratorium is needed to properly assess the impacts of the rapidly developing industry, which will directly affect vast tracts of farming and grazing land.
“Water experts can assess the impacts of gas and water extraction from the Great Artesian Basin, ecologists can assess the impacts on biodiversity from the woodland clearing and fragmentation and marine biologists can get to the bottom of what is occurring in Gladstone harbour”
Mr Hutton believes the decision by NSW Labor to support a moratorium is far more than a token gesture.
Its could ensure that a NSW Greens Bill imposing a moratorium on CSG development passes the state upper house. This would put enormous pressure on the O’Farrell Coalition Government, he says.
The NSW Farmers Association has also been calling for a moratorium for more than 12 months, and has welcomed the NSW Opposition’s call for a halt until more science and regulation is in place to protect the State’s water resources.
“A shift to Opposition has clearly given the Labor Party time to reflect on past decisions,” NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said.
She said an overwhelming groundswell of community support was clearly growing for an evidence and risk-based approach to mining and CSG development in NSW.
“It’s now up to the O’Farrell Government to deliver on its promise to restore balance and create certainty for communities, farmers and industry by defining areas where mining and CSG extraction should – and should not – occur.”