One of the issues which received attention in the northern NSW electorate of Page well before - and then during - the federal election campaign was gas mining. The Labor Member for Page, Janelle Saffin, and the National Party candidate, Kevin Hogan, both declared that they were opposed to coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the electorate. Given the degree of community opposition to gas mining, it was not surprising that the candidates for both of the major parties (Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition) declared their opposition to such mining.
Despite what seemed to be a bi-partisan position on gas-mining, the Nationals chose to ignore Saffin's stated position. One of the Nationals' election posters on display outside polling booths at last Saturday's election declared: "VOTE FOR LABOR. GET CSG MINING."
|Election signage outside a Grafton polling booth.
The Nationals also chose to ignore the fact that Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal-National Party Coalition, declared he supported the expansion of mining - and presumably this included gas mining. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had made a similar statement of support for mining.
It would seem that a more truthful poster would have stated: "VOTE FOR THE NATIONALS OR LABOR. GET CSG MINING." The fact that the Nationals ignored their own parties' position on mining perhaps illustrates how desperate they were to win the seat. And win the seat they did - quite comfortably. Whether this deception helped their victory, it is difficult to know.
The Nationals' poster appears an even more cynical deception given statements made before the election by their colleague, Ian MacFarlane, Shadow Minister for Resources and Energy. MacFarlane claimed that there was likely to be a gas shortage in NSW around 2016 and that his priority, if the Coalition was elected, was "to get big quantities of gas produced in NSW."
So MacFarlane was making it plain that he would be pushing for the expansion of gas-mining in NSW. He did not specify which, if any areas, he had in mind, but it is likely that Page, which lies in the Clarence-Moreton Basin, would be targetted.
In making the claim about shortages MacFarlane is following the lead of State Coalition Ministers who are using the pretext of an imminent shortage to push their gas-mining agenda. This claim is a furphy because NSW has access to the gas reserves in Bass Strait which are projected to last for many more years. The gas that the mining companies want to extract in NSW is primarily for the lucrative export market – not for domestic consumption.
So, now that the Coalition is in Government and Kevin Hogan is the Member for Page, what will happen if the Coalition pushes for further gas exploration and the establishment of gasfields in Page? Will our new MP stand up to his Government and the rapacious mining companies? Will he support the community which elected him ? It will be very interesting to see how he meets this challenge if it arises.
And a final note on Mr Hogan's position. His local National Party State MP colleagues - Chris Gulaptis in Clarence, Thomas George in Lismore and Don Page in Ballina - all support CSG mining. How soon will Mr Hogan change his views on CSG mining now that he has won the seat of Page ?