By ERWIN CHLANDA
Thousands of people of all ages and income brackets from around the tiny town of Bentley – in the Northern Rivers area of NSW – came together to protect their district from coal seam gas mining.
The NSW Government fought them at every turn, finally sending in 800 police to break up their blockades. But they didn’t count on the iron will of the people – 99.4% of local households wanted the industry banned from the area.
The government backed down.
What a win! After a seven year campaign, this gas field would be free from gas – from road to road, the chant went round the hills!
The cops packed up. The gas company withdrew (the government buying back their exploration licence). ABC presenter of Big Deal, Christiaan Van Vuuren and two elegant ladies – stalwarts of the barricades – grinned ear to ear: “Does this have any legal basis?” he asked them.
That thoroughly cheeky Jungle Entertainment / ABC production, directed by Craig Reuchassel, spans issues of the Australian political landscape from shonky political donations to assault rifles, asking “Is our democracy for sale?”
Its reminder of the Bentley story, and other instances of people power, is just what the doctor has ordered for what’s going on our side of the border: There is more gas in the Beetaloo Basin than we can imagine, but at what price its extraction, given its massive contribution to national greenhouse emissions?
And in Singleton the NT Government is willing to make a gift of 40 gigalitres of water a year, for 40 years, to a Chinese company, Fortune Agribusiness. At what price the local environmental impact?
Is our tiny Territory democracy for sale?
There is energetic Territory opposition to these moves but they are yet to galvanise a real groundswell of people power, of the kind that won at Bentley.
Nonetheless in Darwin tomorrow Protect Country Alliance will join numerous other groups who care about the future of the planet to denounce the “complete insanity” of a two day oil gas conference being held at a time when urgent action to mitigate the climate crisis is required.
According to a Protect Country Alliance media release, groups including their own, Australian Parents for Climate Action Darwin branch, Climate Action Darwin, the Environment Centre NT, and others will demonstrate against the deals being cut and the projects being promoted during the SEAAOC Conference at the Darwin Convention Centre.
“The gas and oil giants set to appear at the SEAAOC Conference this week are driving the climate crisis that is making the Territory hotter and ultimately less liveable,” said Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer.
“It’s sadly ironic that they should gather here, in one of Australia’s cities that is most at risk from the catastrophic impacts of runaway climate change, to promote their dirty work.
“No doubt these executives will be eager to congratulate the NT Gunner Government for bending over backwards to encourage the polluting fracking in the Territory.
“The Gunner Government and the Federal Government have wastefully donated millions of taxpayer dollars to fracking companies, and are looking set to backflip on the promise to require fracking companies to offset their domestic emissions.
“In the last few months alone the Gunner Government has given final approvals to Empire Energy and Santos fracking projects, despite fierce opposition from local communities, Traditional Owners, and landholders.
“These approvals have been granted despite the fact all the required baseline environmental studies (SREBA) have not yet been completed.
“The limited studies that have been completed reveal rich underground ecosystems and connectedness of water aquifers across vast distances, highlighting what would be lost in the likely event the fracking industry causes a contamination disaster.
“We will make sure the oil and gas giants who come to Darwin for this conference, and their political supporters, are fully aware the Territory public is staunchly opposed to their plans to pollute the NT and endanger the planet.”
Note: The Bentley story was chronicled in detail in the powerful documentary film, The Bentley Effect, screened in Alice Springs in 2017 and reviewed in these pages.
MAIN PHOTO: Showing a bit more gumption.