Stoner labels anti-CSG protesters "professional bludgers"
NOT BLUDGERS - some of the protesters from the Bentley Blockade: Robert Moreton, fencing contractor; Scott Sledge, retiree; Adam Guise, Lock the Gate; Ian Gaillard, builder; Ruth Rosenhek, Nimbin Rainforest Information Centre; Nan Nicholson, author/nursery operator; (holding sign with sunglasses on - unknown); Glen Curtis, loan mowing business owner; Danielle Voight, retiree; Kim Curtis (back with cap holding sign), Far North Coast Weeds; Tony Curtis (front, kneeling on right of lawnmower), Rous Water; Desley Banks, teacher, Matt Banks, Lismore Workers' Club; Peter Nielsen, farmer; Liz Stokes, librarian; Ted Hoddinott, Lismore Workers Club.
NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner has outraged coal seam gas opponents by describing some Bentley protesters as "professional bludgers" at his party's conference last week.
The comment was part of a response from a Page electorate-based Nationals member asking about the rights of the Graham family - the owners of the Bentley property Metgasco had planned to drill on - and the actions of some protesters doing things such as welding gates shut.
Former Grafton Daily Examiner editor, Jenna Cairney, who was attending the Nationals State Conference for The Land newspaper, tweeted some of Mr Stoner's comments:
"It broke my heart that some of those professional bludgers thought they had a win," one quote read.
"Mark my word we were prepared to go head-to-head with that protest group," read another.
"They (the Graham family) were bullied and harassed by that protest group."
Mr Stoner yesterday stood by the comments, but said he never suggested "all the protesters were professional bludgers".
"I said words to the effect that it was a large protest which included a core of hard-line protesters who had travelled to the area but also some good local people," he said.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, who was also at the conference, said Mr Stoner spent much of his time on his answer explaining and defending the reasons for the suspension of Metgasco's licence.
Mr Gulaptis also rejected the description of protesters as "professional bludgers", saying the Bentley blockade had been conducted by a cross-section of the community.
"As much as some conservatives may like to ... label them as long-haired and braided protesters - and there were some of those people - there were also ordinary everyday people who do work and who do live on the land and do have genuine concerns," he said.
"I'm glad that confrontation (between police and protesters) didn't take place. It wouldn't have been good for anyone.
"Clearly there's something fundamentally wrong when so many people object to an activity."
Mr Gulaptis said the level of opposition to gas mining on the Northern Rivers was so high it cast doubt on whether a local industry could be viable - regardless of what happened at Bentley.
Properties on the Northern Rivers tended to be much smaller than on the Darling Downs, where the coal seam gas industry has a strong presence. With only a handful of property owners prepared to allow gas companies onto their land, that meant this region would never be able to match the scale of the Queensland operation.
Mr Gulaptis said gas drilling would compromise the "clean, green" image relied on by Northern Rivers producers regardless of whether the industry was safe or not.
THE State Government has agreed to review its decision to suspend Metgasco's licence to drill at Bentley and promised to detail its reasoning for the decision.
The miner announced the new developments in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange yesterday, also announcing it would hold off on legal action until June 27 to give the government time to deliver on its promises.
Metgasco said the government had said it would deliver the documentation underlying its decision to suspend Metgasco's licence by Friday, June 20, and would use what the government called its 'best endeavours' to make a decision by June 25 on whether to keep the drilling approval for Rosella in suspension.
Metgasco had applied to the courts for a judicial review of the decision by Energy Minister Anthony Roberts to suspend its licence with the first hearing in that process scheduled to start last week. Until it agreed to defer court action, the company had been seeking a ruling saying it had complied with rules around community consultation.
Despite the new detente, Metgasco said it reserved the right "to pursue other options, including a claim for damages to compensate the company for losses".