By KIERAN FINNANE
Impassioned pleas from the public gallery, an eloquent speech from Councillor Jade Kudrenko, a certain volume of letters and emails, and a second small petition – adding 96 signatures to a previous 165 – were not enough to persuade the blockers on the Town Council to impose a moratorium on fracking in the municipality.
Revisiting the pro-moratorium motion put forward by Cr Eli Melky at the mid-month committee meeting, everyone stuck to their guns. A division showed Crs Melky, Kudrenko and Chansey Paech supporting the motion, while opposed were Mayor Damien Ryan and Crs Brendan Heenan, Dave Douglas and Steve Brown. These four also opposed lifting standing orders to allow a free-flowing debate on the issue. Absent were Crs Kylie Bonanni and Liz Martin (who has been given six months’ leave from council due to ill health).
The speakers from the public gallery were not easy to pigeonhole as ‘lefty greenies’: anyone frequenting the post office would have recognised long-term employees Stuart Blanch and Margaret Rolfe. Mr Blanch has lived all of his 42 years in Alice Springs; Mrs Rolfe has been here since 1977 and raised her children here.
Mr Blanch urged a ‘yes’ vote for either a moratorium or an outright ban by council, to tell the Northern Territory Government “our stance on the issue”.
He described fracking as “very dangerous”. He said he’d talked to “an awful lot of people” over last six months and no-one was “for this practice”. Without at least a moratorium we would be saying to the government “our area, our water basin is open for business to be raped and pillaged by corporations”. He warned that most of the money from fracking would go overseas, leaving the town with “a water table damaged beyond repair”.
“If any single well leaked our drinking water would be gone forever” – we would be left with “a dead town, dead livestock, no agriculture, no Alice Springs”.
He said that the opposition to fracking by local people like himself “means nothing if council doesn’t stand with us”.
There was clapping and “hear, hear” from the public gallery.
Mrs Rolf wants to be assured of a safe environment “for our grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren”. She said 80% of the profits will go overseas and 90% of the wells leak. There is no good reason to frack in central Australia when we have the sun and other renewable energies: “Once our water is gone, there is no going back. We have to look after this beautiful place we live in.”
She urged council to “back the people” who put them there and “we do not want any fracking at all!”
Not a word was said in reply to any of these arguments and urgings by any of the councillors opposed to a moratorium.
Cr Kudrenko pleaded with them to change their minds. She listed the wide range of information and argument that councillors have been exposed to, through various deputations from industry, government and lobby groups, or could have availed themselves of, such as the community consultations during the compilation of the Hawke report. She understood that an expected meeting with Dr Hawke would not go ahead but that council had been offered instead a private meeting with the Chief Executive of the Department of Mines and Energy, Ron Kelly on May 6. She argued now was the time to form an opinion; council should go to that meeting with a position of deep concern about fracking and support for a moratorium.
Applause, “hear, hear”.
Mayor Ryan, in his best passive-aggressive chairing style, said he had “enjoyed the history lesson” but reiterated his firm stand that “we need to be able to discuss the controls”. He does not support a moratorium “whatsoever” but looks forward to the discussions with Mr Kelly.
Cr Paech said support for a moratorium would not exclude council from any debate as the Wagait and Katherine councils have made clear. A moratorium could be lifted once a regulatory regime is introduced, as the Executive Director Energy from the department has said is needed. Council needed to understand what is best for the community and not be persuaded by the “quick bucks”. He said it was a “disgrace” that council was not supporting a moratorium.
Cr Heenan said his opinion was the same as the mayor’s. His reference to the May 6 meeting with Mr Kelly drew incredulous laughter from the public gallery.
Cr Melky criticised Crs Brown and Douglas for saying nothing – “so arrogant that they don’t engage with the debate”. He rejected the suggestion in social media that the anti-fracking movement is a “leftwing conspiracy”, pointing to his next motion, regarding a youth curfew, in which “they’ll [the ‘Left’] come against me”. He said that as long as there is a risk to the town’s water, he would remain opposed to fracking, warning that he would be a “formidable” opponent.
More applause. Cr Kudrenko made her final comments – that the community should hear from the council that their safety is what is most important. The vote was lost. And the public gallery emptied.
PHOTO at top: Last night’s public gallery. Not all were present to support the call for a moratorium; many were there to pick up cheques from council’s latest round of community grants.