Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Looking back at New England's Environmental Wars

Last year in the lead up to the Federal election, ABC's Background Briefing was going to do a full piece on the contest for the Federal seat of New England, including part on the environmental wars raging across the North.

I was going to be interviewed to provide historical context. In the end, the program did not proceed because of Richard Torbay's sudden withdrawal from the context. That reminds me, I need to update my personal piece on Richard; there have been newspapePilliga Protestr stories since I added the last entry.

I can't remember when I first wrote on New England's environmental wars. It was some time ago.

From memory, it started in Newcastle with the protests against the coal loader. Then, a little later, I drove through Gloucester on my way to Armidale and saw the protest signs. Later came Lock the Gate and a more structured campaign.

My impression is that the protests have lost some of their steam, but they are persistent. This photo from NBN shows the protest against Santos and coal seam gas in the Pilliga Forest. This post from Sharyn Munro, Sitting for Leard Forest, describes the protest against Whitehaven Coal. I see, too, that Sharyn has now published a book, Rich Land Waste land: how coal is killing Australia. On the North Coast, North Coast Voices maintains the rage.

Stage one of the environmental wars was driven by general fears about global warming. It was very much a Green activist thing. Then came the local phase as people at Gloucester, in the Hunter and on the Liverpool Plains became energised, creating a sometimes unusual amalgam of local protest and Green activists. It was this combination that was of special interest to the ABC.

Part of the local reaction was a NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) thing, but more was genuine concern about life style loss and significant environmental risk. I, for one, wondered about the potential impact on Liverpool Plains' ground water, a significant New England resource. Neither the companies nor the Sydney Government helped. At a time of contracting state revenues, the great big golden pot of royalties was just too attractive. Damn all of that royalties money benefited the areas in question. They paid a price without compensation or even recognition.

This brought a groundswell of protest that finally forced change. From Newcastle to the Queensland border, local newspapers in affected areas ran what were effectively protest stories. One side effect was the re-emergence of support in Newcastle for self government for the North.

In Canberra, the pivotal role of the New England independents and especially Tony Windsor finally forced a Federal response. In Sydney, the new O'Farrell Government enforced an effective if clumsy freeze on CSG development.  

We have now come to a new phase in New England's environmental wars. I think of it as the end game. I will explain why in my next post.  

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