Queensland’s premier will have “blood on her hands” if the government continues to ignore farmers’ distress over the coal seam gas mining industry, say political and public voices.
Braving the lashings of an early summer storm, almost 50 people gathered outside the premier’s office in Brisbane on Thursday evening for the public vigil of anti-CSG campaigner and Chinchilla farmer George Bender, who last week took his own life following a decade-long battle against the industry.
“Anastasia Palaszczuk must understand that if one more farmer dies as a result of the bullying and the pressure that these companies put on communities, she will have blood on her hands,” Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Drew Hutton told the applauding crowd.
“We must make sure that this government is called to account,” he said.
Mr Hutton said he had arranged meetings with the premier’s office and spoken to the state environment minister, but was unable to reach Ms Palaszczuk herself as she would not answer his calls.
Senator for Queensland Glenn Lazarus echoed Mr Dutton’s condemnations, saying he too had been unable to garner a response from Ms Palaszczuk, and had relayed the situation to the Prime Minister.
In an impassioned speech, Mr Lazarus said farmers were “living an absolute nightmare” through the “scourge” of goal seam gas mining, and the impact on both environmental and human life was evident.
“Ultimately, George Bender saw no other avenue than to take his own life after his battle with the energy companies, who destroyed his property,” he said.
“They berated him, they harassed him, and at the end of the day, the only way he felt he could get any relief was to take his own life.
“His struggles were not just for him and his family, but for the whole country that depends on the agricultural and environmental resources, unique to this Western Downs area.”
A cotton grower with a history of farming stretching back seven generations, George Bender had been in discussion with Origin Energy, who wanted to drill 18 new gas wells on his property as part of their expanding gasfield project.
Mr Bender had allegedly already lost two bores from previous CSG operations, stemming from the Linc Energy underground coal gasification project, and refused to enter into an agreement with Origin.
Mr Lazarus said he was determined to ensure legislative changes would happen, in an attempt to restore balance against mining companies who sought to take resources from agricultural land without paying adequate compensation in return.
“I will push hard for any policy implemented to assist landholders, and any changes made to the law to give landholders the right to say no to mining companies coming onto their land.”
Mr Dutton said if the premier chose to take action, a great part of the problem could be fixed within a matter of days, emphasising the urgency of providing support and health services to those farmers facing encroaching industry developments.
“She needs to enact legislation, and do this as quickly as possible, to see that landowners in this state can engage in a commercial transaction with these mining companies without being threatened or being taken to court if they say no, or dig their heels in.”
The Lock the Gate Alliance has released an 8-point action plan aimed at reducing the suffering caused by CSG mining in Queensland.