RELIGION has entered the debate on the region’s resources boom, as the Uniting Church prepares to take its concerns to a state gathering in Sydney next week.
The New England North West Presbytery of The Uniting Church has issued a statement questioning the impact of mining activity on prime agricultural land, water resources and forests, including the Leard and Pilliga state forests.
Reverend John Brentnall said the presbytery wanted to add its voice to the calls for caution when it came to coal and coal seam gas exploration and extraction, and has even agreed to take a proposal to the Synod for NSW/ACT, which will meet from April 13 to 16 in Sydney, calling on it to adopt a similar position.
Reverend Brentnall, along with Catholic priest Father Ron Perrett and Pastor Neville Mammen of the Christian Outreach Centre first expressed “grave concerns” about the effects of the resources boom in November last year.
It hasn’t been a position endorsed by all Reverend Brentnall’s congregations though, with the church’s Quirindi/Werris Creek council supporting the stand while the Gunnedah council doesn’t.
He understands the divisiveness of the issue and said the intent wasn’t to take sides.
“We’re pro-people. We don’t want to be seen as against those who work in the mining industry,” Reverend Brentnall said.
“As communities of faith we stand in solidarity with those farmers who fear for their security and future way of life at this time. We also understand the contribution of mining and the generation of electricity to economic activity in our region.
“When we consider future planning or development, our primary question would be, ‘what is happening to the people?’, rather than ‘what is happening to the economy?’
“With a growing population we believe it is important to protect land that has a history of sustainable food production.”
Some of his parishioners were farmers who would be directly affected by Shenhua’s Watermark proposal and he said he’d done a lot of his own research since arriving in Gunnedah in May last year.
He said Australian farmers had fed this country and others for generations, adapting their practices to ensure the livelihoods of future generations.
“Our hope is that decisions made on the future use of these areas are based on the common good of all humanity.” Their stand is based on a similar call three years ago by the Anglican and Catholic bishops of Toowoomba and the Uniting Church leader in that area.
Recently, the Anglican Bishop of Gippsland, John McIntyre expressed doubts about the safety of coal seam gas extraction.