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Coal Seam Gas


Gloucester | Pilliga | Camden | Northern Rivers | Wollongong | Bentley
Woop Woop March | Aussies Against Fracking

GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING
COMMITTEE No. 5 27 MONDAY 31 OCTOBER 2011

PETER EPOV, Chairman, Manning Alliance,

KERRY ANDERSON, Secretary, Manning Alliance, and

LLOYD PARSLOW, Treasurer, Manning Alliance, sworn and examined:

CHAIR: Would any or all of you like to make an opening statement?

Mr EPOV: I will make a statement on behalf of the group. First I will introduce the other members of the group. Kerry is a single parent who is balancing operating a farm, completing a university degree and raising three teenage children. Lloyd and his wife, Janice, are self-funded retirees who have made the tree change and moved to the Manning Valley from the Blue Mountains. Lloyd is a decorated Vietnam veteran who voluntarily served in the Australian regular army. We collectively are the authors of the submission before you.

I will continue the theme of our submissions. This community does not want, nor do we support, coal seam gas mining in the Manning Valley. As in our submission, we stipulate that the Manning Valley should be recognised as a region of unique State significance and that it should be permanently locked away from coal seam gas mining.

Today, here in the Manning Valley, is Blue Day. Blue Day is what we call a silent people's protest aimed at peacefully expressing this community's opposition to coal seam gas. Throughout the valley and for a further six weeks merchants will be displaying our blue posters. People throughout the community are hanging blue ribbons on their front doors, gates and cars and today they are all wearing blue. Blue represents the clean, pristine waters that we have in our valley which we are determined to protect from coal seam gas contamination. If you cast your eyes over the audience, you will see people wearing blue. I am sure that the Committee would have noticed that all day today everybody has been wearing blue. Such is the resolve of this community.

Again, if you cast your eyes over the audience, you will see a broad cross-section of the community, people from all sectors of the community. We are not radicals, we are not fringe elements, we are people who are deeply concerned about the implications and the consequences of coal seam gas, as are many Australians throughout the community.

These people want me to express to this inquiry and to the Government that we do not want to compromise the quality of our water, the health and safety of this community, nor our fragile and precious local economy, to the serious and significant consequences of coal seam gas. We are not happy with, nor do we trust, accept or believe the present Government's policy-on-the-run approach to coal seam gas mining.

Further, we question the morality of the Government fuelling a gas gold rush and at the same time arguing that if we do not allow this industry sufficient latitude, then it will go elsewhere. We do not like the fact that when it comes to coal seam gas the New South Wales Government is the policy maker, the tax collector and the primary beneficiary of coal seam gas. Nor do we like the fact that so many former politicians, staffers and government employees are now working for this industry. It is a little like insider trading.

The coal seam gas dilemma has been painted through the media and by industry and politicians as an age-old argument between farmers and miners over land use rights and, as such, it has been minimised and trivialised. But the issue is much larger and more significant.

 This is not just about land use rights; it is an argument about major fundamental change to the structure of the Australian way of life, our way of life.

What the community is saying is that we do not want coal seam gas wells popping up indiscriminately all over the place. Further, we would strongly argue that neither the current State Government, nor Mr O'Farrell or Mr Bromhead, have an explicit mandate to make such a structural change to our way of life. The community and the people will not stand for it, nor will they accept this.

This is partly the reason why there are so many groups and alliances that are appearing throughout the State. We do not want to be surrounded by gas wells. We do not trust nor do we believe in the rhetoric. There is insufficient science to support coal seam gas mining in this State and the Government should not underestimate the concern and resolve of this community. This issue really will not go away—it is not like the Solar Rebate Scheme.

The fact is, the community is only now starting to awaken to the consequences of coal seam gas. Once the community is fully aware, this will become a significant conflict and it will haunt and damage the Government.

We understand that the Government is eager to fill its coffers from coal seam gas mining and that coal seam gas is an easy and expedient solution for the Government. But the community does not want to pay this price. We do not want to exchange our way of life. We do not want to take on the risks of coal seam gas.

Expediency only leads us to greater and far more complex problems down the track. The new buzz word of "adaptive management" from the coal seam gas industry—meaning once we cause a problem, then we will sit down and try to work out a solution—just does not have any weight.

We do not like the fact that the National Party—which claims to be looking after the interests and the welfare of the bush and the rural community—appears to be very closely aligned and in bed with the mining industry.

Further, we do not like, nor do we accept the revival of the ghost of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen constantly telling us, "Don't you worry about that; don't you worry about that", particularly in a situation where, almost daily, new information is emerging regarding the seriousness and the significant consequences from coal seam gas mining.

The Government is facing a major credibility issue on this subject. The Coalition was elected and campaigned on the previous Government's failures—not on a platform of structural change to our community.

Coal seam gas represents a structural change to our community. The manner in which the State Government appears to be allowing the industry to cherrypick locations means that the whole State is now exposed.

It is the Government's management of this issue that is causing all the upheaval throughout the State and this will ultimately lead to significant civil unrest such as that which has now been commenced on the Liverpool Plains.

Neither this community nor the entire State wants to see the Queensland coal seam gas pandemic here. Is it not our responsibility, as a society and as the human race, to be looking forward longer than the next 50 years?

Should we not be looking 200 and 500 years forward? After all, it took China 400 years to build the Great Wall.

Or are we prepared to consign our grandchildren to abductive management where we create all the problems and
they have to find the solutions? Thank you.

CHAIR: Would either Mr Parslow or Ms Anderson like to make a statement? I will now pass to Mr Donnelly.

The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: Thank you for coming along and providing some additional testimony to your detailed submission. I open by framing it this way: The impression I got from the submission you gave—a very heartfelt and strong submission—was that the position is, "No, no, a thousand times no", to coal seam gas exploration and development. On the other hand, on page 10 of your submission, you raise what are a number of issues that really, on my reading of it, should be addressed if we in New South Wales are to have a serious look at this issue of coal seam gas exploration and development.

So I am just trying to discern what the position is. Is the position a complete no, never, or is it that there are a number of very serious matters in play here that need to be looked at and we should be turning our minds to looking at these and, to coin a phrase, get to the bottom of it and satisfy ourselves before we proceed with the development of the industry? So I am just trying to get the position that you hold?

Mr EPOV: The position that we hold is that we oppose coal seam gas mining in its present manner of introduction. We understand that there is some economic benefit to the State. We understand that it is expedient for the State to look at the enormous amount of income from royalties and things like that.

We would argue that there are other industries that need to be encouraged, primary industries, which could ultimately cover the income and return what is projected from coal seam gas mining. We cannot come to you and say no to everything; we have to be reasonable in our approach.

We have said to you that we oppose it but if the Government allows it to happen, then we are asking you to take into consideration all of the elements that we put in our submission. After all, we are only a voice of a small community. Does that answer your question?

The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: Yes. Following on from what you have said, page 10 of your submission, which is very detailed, outlines a number of issues which need to be confronted and got to the bottom of before the industry proceeds in this State. That is your submission?

Mr EPOV: Yes.

The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: A question I asked earlier, that is, how do you respond—and I can guess what the answer may be—to the suggestion that the coal seam gas industry will bring jobs and prosperity to this area?

Mr EPOV: One of the things that is not being discussed is a cost benefits analysis to the community and this is one of the things that needs to be considered in this whole process. What does it really mean to this community or to any community? It is our belief that it will not improve the economic status of the community.

We believe it will have a negative impact on our economy and on our way of life and that there are enormous social elements to be considered. Some of the other speakers today have spoken to you about property values going down.

What was not touched on—and I presume someone will ultimately touch on that—is the human element, the impact on the people who have to suffer in the situation where their property values are slashed or when their mortgages are called on because they no longer have sufficient collateral on their property.

I have heard of instances where people have gone to borrow money and the bank is saying no because their property is in a coal seam gas area.

Think of the consequences if that falls right through Gloucester and all the banks sit down and look at their exposure and they say: We are not covered sufficiently, let us go and call in all our mortgages or let us ask for additional security. How many people on mortgages are exposed?

People have had breakdowns, people have had heart attacks. These are consequences that are indirect but clearly impact on the entire community and on other government services.

The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: Mr Epov, you have, in a compelling way, put the case for no coal seam gas. One of the fundamentals to that case is that you are concerned about the economic impact of coal seam gas on existing industries. Could you expand on that? What are the threats you see to industry? What are those industries? How do you see coal seam gas impacting detrimentally on the existing and potential economy of this district?

Mr EPOV: This region has been impacted by globalisation—where we had substantial companies employing hundreds of people, they have disappeared. As you all flew in today you would have seen how green our valley is. This was a significant beef producing area.

This was a significant dairy industry area but 70 per cent of our dairies have been wiped out through dairy deregulation. We now have a very delicately balanced economy. That economy is based on some food production and tourism.

Some 2,600 people are employed in tourism in this region. Tourism means several hundred million dollars of income to this community. Quite frankly, no-one will come here to go on the gas pipeline trail.

Above us four billion are people living in Asia. Of those four billion people, there are close to one billion people with a high disposable income. As we fuel their economies with our energy and our minerals, we are also fuelling their living standards. As we fuel their living standards, they will have greater demand for better quality produce: food.

We have all been to Chinese restaurants and seen the fish swimming around in the tanks. We know that the Chinese like to pick this fish or that fish—they like to see quality produce. I have spent almost 20 years doing business in China. I have made over 100 visits to China. I can see the changes that have occurred in their living standards. With those changes in living standards will come greater demands for quality food, for naturally grown, clean food—pasture grown food. All of our lobsters go to China at the moment. The Chinese are quite prepared to pay, and they have the money to do so. If they can pay for our lobsters, they can pay for premium food.

In terms of contributing to our economy, we need to focus on what we already have and grow it, develop it and expand it. We should not put it at risk. We should not put it into harm's way or jeopardy. Being three hours away from Sydney we have a lot of visitors to this region. We see tourism as being negatively impacted. If there were some sort of incident resulting from coal seam gas or contaminated water, it would have a severe negative impact on food from this area.

From looking around the table I gather that most of the Committee members are of the same vintage as me. You probably all remember the Sydney oyster scares in the 1970s. Industries died. My wife's family business, which was probably the single largest oyster distribution business in this State, died as a result of oyster poisoning scares. These implications must be thought through.

Think back to the mad cow disease. We did not have it in Australia, but think back to how it impacted and affected other countries and their produce. We only need one incident. That is my answer to your question.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: You were talking about the cost benefit to the community. The industry will probably go ahead if it can be designed so that there is no impact on our groundwater, surface water, estuaries, et cetera, no impact on our agricultural land and no impact on the social fabric of our community — you must remember that that is what this inquiry is about — but if those things cannot be given then probably the industry will not go ahead. Assuming we meet all those ifs, and we want to give a better financial contribution to the community, so the cost benefit pendulum swings back in the community's favour, have you got any suggestions as to how that should happen? Should it be through compensation to communities at large? If so, how should that compensation be applied?

Mr EPOV: To answer the earlier part of your question, it is like me picking all the numbers in Powerball. At the moment it clearly appears that there are so many considerations that have not been made with regards to coal seam gas. Those ifs are very big ifs. I am not disputing what you are saying. I think that ultimately there have to be areas identified that may be properly tested for coal seam gas. I am a rational person and I try to be reasonable in my approach, but ultimately those areas have to be incredibly well selected and vetted. Those areas cannot have an impact on the community. Many of the families of the people who live here have been here for generations. They have worked, toiled and developed this land. It is not right, fair or decent for someone to steamroll their property and create havoc and mayhem. It is not reasonable.

The Hon. RICK COLLESS: I think you have misunderstood my question. My question related to ways in which we could get better recompense for the community?

Mr EPOV: In terms of better recompense for the community we need to clearly identify those regions that are suitable and those that are unsuitable. That has got to be developed by consideration of not only strategic land use but also a range of other factors. I was going to say at the end of our evidence that we intend to give the Committee a further submission on elements that we have not covered and which we would like to expand on. The fact is that individuals need to be compensated and they need to be compensated properly within the twenty-first century.

More importantly, regions are critical. Regions should not be considered through lines on a map. We have got to look at the geography. We have got to look at the geology. We have got to look at the structure of the earth. We have got to consider all of these factors before we determine the areas that are acceptable and those which are not acceptable. My argument today is that this particular valley is not acceptable for coal seam gas mining.

The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: I heard you talk about access and you compared it with Queensland. Queensland has quite different land access protocols compared with New South Wales. We need to draw a little bit of comfort from the fact that, as far as I am aware, there has been no forced access by any coal seam gas company in New South Wales. That is my understanding. Are you saying there should be even greater bars, if you like, for access onto properties?

Mr EPOV: Absolutely. We do not have coal seam gas in this valley at the moment so I feel a little unqualified to speak directly, but access is a serious issue from what I heard in the evidence that the Gloucester people were giving earlier. I cannot give you direct evidence. I can only give you information about what I have heard.

The situation with access is that people can come to your property and they can ask you to drill. They do not necessarily identify themselves. They do not tell you what your rights are. They get people to sign contracts, which are confidential and they cannot disclose to their neighbours. The whole process is divisive. It is intended to divide and conquer. It is not fair and it is not reasonable.

The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: When the Committee prepares its final report you would ask that one of the key elements to be included in it should be that land access agreements should be transparent, equitable and fair, correctly priced and give equal power?

Mr EPOV: Landholders need to have rights, and those rights should cover their right to say no.

CHAIR: I thank you all for your submission and for appearing here today. I ask you to ensure that you get your supplementary submission to the Committee within 21 days.

(The witnesses withdrew)
(Short adjournment).

NSW: Pilliga | Gloucester | Camden | Northern Rivers

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