Turning up the heat: Pollies jostle for position as coal seam gas debate fires up

NATIONAL Party MPs were yesterday scrambling to articulate their position on new coal seam gas regulations after their colleague, Richard Torbay, the day before called for a halt to mining and gas extraction on the Liverpool Plains.

Mr Torbay called on NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher to provide an assurance the government would extend the sanctions of its new policy to permanently protect the rich blacksoil plains and their aquifers by halting mining and gas extraction.

Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson issued a media statement on Tuesday afternoon welcoming the NSW government’s rejigged coal seam gas regulations, saying they lined up with his “consistent push to strengthen the regulations and to increase protection of water resources, the environment and agricultural industries”.

Yesterday Mr Anderson strengthened his position, issuing a statement saying he had raised the issue of the coal seam gas regulations in Parliament earlier in the day.

 “We need to protect our water, the environment, our agricultural industries and prime agricultural land, such as the blacksoil plains in the Tamworth electorate,” he told Parliament.

“I will continue to monitor the development of the coal seam gas industry closely and very carefully.”

Meanwhile, member for Upper Hunter George Souris, whose electorate contains much of the Liverpool Plains, has yet to respond to Mr Torbay’s call.

His office said Mr Souris would be making a statement.

Deputy Premier and leader of The Nationals Andrew Stoner reiterated the value of the amended policy, which was announced on Monday.

He said strategic agricultural land was protected, through the establishment of an independent and scientific gateway process which the government had devised.

And late yesterday afternoon, Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, The Nationals member for Burrinjuck, was singing Mr Anderson’s praises for his representation of his constituents on the coal seam gas issue.

Ms Hodgkinson said Mr Anderson’s representations “had resulted in this week’s sensible amendments to strengthen coal seam gas regulations”.

Mr Torbay’s entry into the debate, despite being a member of The Nationals and whose electorate is outside current coal seam gas activities, has placed him at odds with his colleagues in the government.

Mr Torbay’s view aligns with those expressed by independent member for New England Tony Windsor.

Mr Windsor, environmental groups and farmers argue the new measures fall well short of what is needed, because the new “hands-off” approach does not include farming land.

Mr Hartcher yesterday confirmed he had met with Mr Torbay and would discuss his concerns further.

Mr Hartcher did not indicate whether there would be further changes to the already amended policy.

Mr Stoner has defended The Nationals’ role in the new measures, saying they were the result of consistent and strong advocacy by the party.

“Nationals MPs live in the communities affected by coal seam gas and understand the issues – that’s why they have been able to make effective representations and secure these key initiatives to further protect regional communities, particularly country towns, from the effects of coal seam gas,” Mr Stoner said.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has not indicated whether the new measures will be enough to stop him from imposing federal environmental conditions on coal seam gas projects to protect water and land resources.

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