Such is the question, amongst others, raised by PJ Allen’s response (Letters, July 15) to my run down of the recent Natural Gas (read CSG, or “fracking”) Open Day in Inverloch. And I thank them for it.
Because at the conclusion of their letter, following on from a well presented alternative take on the same open day, Mr/Ms Allen made a very big leap.
From one paragraph to the next my reference to “well informed and widely supported (community) groups” had somehow morphed into these same groups suddenly being seen as “fringe” elements.
Interestingly, a little alarm bell had rung at the back of my mind as I wrote this phrase. But I deliberately let it ride.
For those that haven’t followed this exchange, what I was referring to was the clumsiness of the State Government’s information gathering process, suggesting that written submissions from the above mentioned groups would reveal a far more concise and coherent run down of broad public opinion. And I knew some people would not like this idea at all.
I knew this from my somewhat formative experience on the committee of the Watershed group, which raised serious questions regarding the desalination plant.
While I served in that role I became well aware that a large body of public opinion appears to mistrust so called “protest” groups of all stripes, seeing them as being made up of people with nothing better to do than protest at anything and everything.
Now certainly, having been close to more than one group opposing a major industrial or mining project, I would be the first to acknowledge that some few members of such groups may appear to be a little outside the social norm, particularly in a relatively conservative district.
But in my experience their differences are invariably coming from a well-informed position which concurs with more broadly held concerns, even if their frustrations sometimes push their actions a little towards the left of the field.
Unfortunately, this makes it very easy for those in support of the said projects to then brand the concerns being raised as also belonging in the same part of the field.
What this serves to do is to obscure the wealth of information and good sound analysis which comes forth from other group members from non-left field, who have been forced into becoming extraordinarily well versed on the issues surrounding the given projects.
But on the plus side, and it is a major plus, the issue of CSG is so pervasive as to bring a wide fold of the community within the spectrum of the relevant interest groups.
For instance, a survey of the Kongwak district by a group which Mr/Ms Allen apparently considers to be on the “fringe”, revealed 97 per cent opposition to the industry.
Now that is a very big fringe, made up strongly of ordinary people from well within the square.
But while such opposition is not so easy to override, it is still just localised to the districts concerned.
So the issue raised by PJ Allen’s letter remains, and is not small. Because while there is any perception, be it right or wrong, that organised groups opposed to CSG are coming from the political and social fringe, then broader opposition can be fractured. And therefore it will be.
So the other question, indirectly raised, is what to do about this? And in an election year there is an obvious answer. Both major parties seem to like technological, exploitative industries, with large wallets.
And given that the one in power can’t even call a spade a spade, euphemistically referring to CSG as ‘Natural Gas’, I have my doubts on either of their credentials on this issue. And the party that differs is not everyone’s cup of tea.
So how about a body of independent, community based MPs, sitting firmly between the two or more of them, and in enough numbers to call the shots. Job done, and no need to bother the fringe one jot. Sounds good to me, and I only hope that PJ Allen agrees.
PS: And my sincere thanks to you for opening a much needed debate on these pages, which is what they are here for, I believe.