BELLATA farmer Penny Blatchford has become one of the national faces of the anti-coal seam gas debate after a whirlwind visit to Canberra last week.
She was whisked off to the nation’s capital on Tuesday, for her firstever visit to the capital, where a contingent of national media outlets heard about her experiences with the controversial industry.
Independent New England MP Tony Windsor invited her to Parliament House as part of his campaign to push for greater federal intervention in the state-based coal seam gas (CSG) approvals process.
Mrs Blatchford likened her trip to a visit to the headmaster’s office, to “dob on the kids” at NSW parliament who haven’t listened to the community’s demands.
She became an “accidental activist” for the Bellata Gurley district, near Moree, when a coal seam gas company knocked on their doors in 2011.
Brisbane-based Leichardt Resources showed interest in setting up CSG explorations in the Bellata Gurley area, known for its rich farming soils.
Mrs Blatchford, a cotton farmer, was instrumental in organising the Bellata Gurley Action Group Against Gas and a petition against Leichardt’s petroleum exploration licence renewal.
It was an unprecedented document that saw every landholder in the area sign up and give their full support.
Mrs Blatchford has continued to campaign against the industry; work which will see her awarded the Parkes Environment Volunteer Award on today.
The Canberra visit has now given her plight some federal attention.
She left her farm early in the morning and flew into the city by mid-morning.
She then attended a roundtable conference on the health implications of energy where nationally renowned scientists and campaigners presented their findings.
Next, national media waited for her to tell them about blockade and protest actions, her experiences and her background.
Mrs Blatchford said some of the reporters mistook her for someone with a legal or environmental background, but she told them she was still just a farmer.
“I said we really just need protection – we need to be supported during exploration and not just production,” she said.
“We need independent science right from the start.”
She also met the Australian Greens leader, Christine Milne, and The Nationals senator, Barnaby Joyce, as well as Mr Windsor, who came out swinging against the NSW government’s handling of the industry last week.
Mr Windsor said farmers felt betrayed by the NSW coalition government’s failure to meet its election promise to protect them.
“That’s why they’re calling for the federal government to step in,” he said.
“Farming communities around the state are upset, and they deserve better.”
Mr Windsor is investigating an amendment to the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act that would make potential impacts on water resources a trigger for Commonwealth intervention.
Mrs Blatchford supports the water trigger, but hopes soils will also be offered protection.