The State Government has been promising to consult communities about unconventional gas mining since early 2013, when Nick Kotsiras was Minister for Energy and Resources. Over a year later, the first few community consultations have finally happened!
When the doors of the Warragul Exhibition Hall opened at 2 o’clock, there were at least 40 people waiting to air their concerns to the government. Over the next few hours around 100 people were interviewed, lodging their complaints and worries with the government-hired consultation company.
Consulting the community is an essential process that the government should have undertaken a long time ago, so these consultations are welcomed by Quit Coal and Lock the Gate. However there is great concern that these particular consultations are a placating measure that will then enable the government to give a green light to the industry.
Unconventional gas mining is deeply unpopular in rural Victoria, and with the government failing to keep up with communities, many groups have consulted themselves, through a democratic surveying process of all town residents. If the government were really interested in the views of the people who elected them, they would have listened to the message from groups like Poowong, Mirboo North and Deans Marsh who have voted by overwhelming majority to declare themselves Coal and Gasfield Free.
These consultations have been poorly publicised and even more poorly run. The hall was very unwelcoming, with no seating available, and only three independent consulters available to listen to the people who had managed to hear about the event. Eventually some of the government staff ended up doing interviews with citizens, which rather defeated the purpose of hiring an ‘independent’ company.
The government provided several very uninformative information sheets which pretty much just directed people to their equally uninformative website. They used very misleading language – dubbing the entire industry “Natural gas” – which aligns dangerous unconventional gas with long-established offshore natural gas, two very different things!
On the whole, while significant, the process was a little disappointing. Community groups have done a much better job of consultation than the contractors who have been hired to speak to the public on the government’s behalf. The information they provided was limited and very biased, and the total lack of publicity for the events makes it seem like they don’t really want people to turn up at all. Even some of the independent consulters also seemed unhappy about the lack of publicity for the events.
However it is essential that we have a large number of people at these events. It is likely the government will use the data from these consultations to make a decision on whether or not to lift the moratorium on fracking and unconventional gas licenses. We need to ensure they hear the voices of every Victorian who does not want Victoria to turn into a Gasfield.
Since Warragul, there have been consultations in Bairnsdale, Sale and Yarram. There are more consultations coming up, so please come along to one of the following:
Inverloch – Tuesday 17 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Inverloch Community Hub, 16 A’Beckett Street, Inverloch
Mirboo North – Wednesday 18 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Mirboo North Shire Hall, 30 Ridgeway (Strzelecki Highway), Mirboo North
Torquay – Thursday 19 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Torquay Bowls Club, The Esplanade, Torquay
Casterton – Tuesday 24 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Casterton Town Hall Foyer, 67 Henty Street, Casterton
Terang– Wednesday 25 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Civic Hall Rose Room, High Street, Terang
Colac – Thursday 26 June 2014 – 2pm-8pm – Colac Uniting Church Hall, Hesse Street, Colac