ON the same day Narrabri Shire Council sent an email to all staff urging them to take part in a survey about coal seam gas in the town, the local business chamber also sent a similar email.
On Thursday, February 9, Narrabri Chamber of Commerce members received an email from president Russell Stewart entitled “Important action required”, encouraging members to vote yes on a poll that asked, “Do you want CSG production at Narrabri?”.
“I am aware that the protesters are very active in sharing this with their circle,” the email stated.
“If you are a supporter of the industry and Santos in Narrabri Shire it is critical that you take less than 1 minute (that’s the time it takes) to click on the link below and click on the YES icon asap.
“Many I talk to are tired of all surveys to date that have been written and instigated by the protesters which send a false message to the decision makers.”
Mr Stewart told The Leader he was simply notifying members about the poll, not advising them.
“I was aware of the poll because I am an avid reader of The Land, but many of our members aren’t,” Mr Stewart said.
“A concerned member called me up, so I sent a message out to everyone saying to check it out.”
More than 1500 people have voted in the poll, with 73 per cent of people voting against CSG production in Narrabri.
Given the number of people who had voted, Mr Stewart said even if all the chamber’s members voted it wouldn’t have swung the vote.
“Santos or any CSG supporter should be buoyed by the results, given the figures being banded around the last three years by those who oppose the project,” Mr Stewart said.
People for the Plains say its figures show 96 per cent of landholders in and around Santos' exploration leases are firmly against coal seam gas.
“By these figures, and these aren’t our own figures, I’d say there’s been a massive swing back to supporting the coal seam gas industry,” Mr Stewart said.
Narrabri Ratepayers Association treasurer Stephen Stoltenberg said many people were tired of the chamber holding itself out to speak for the whole Narrabri community, when it only had about 140 members.
“As a group, they are allowed to express whatever they want, but they don’t have the right to make out that they represent anyone other than the hundred or so people who are members,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
Mr Stoltenberg said he was far more disappointed in the email Narrabri Shire Council sent to employees.
“I acknowledge the chamber has no obligation to be impartial, but that is most certain not case with council, which has a legal obligation to be impartial,” he said.
The Leader asked Narrabri Shire Council who authorised the email to be sent to all employees, however the question was not answered.
A council spokesperson said staff members were made aware of the poll “to enable their voices to be heard as residents of the shire”.
“Council will continue to encourage all members of the community to get involved in the consultation process on the Narrabri Gas Project,” the spokesperson said.
Greens energy spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said council staff should not be used as pawns in political games.
“Council’s should represent the whole community and not try to push a pro-CSG line through their employees,” Mr Buckingham said.
“This could be construed as putting pressure on employees to toe the line, or potentially risk their careers.”