THE State Minister for Resources, Wade Noonan, has credited the campaign mounted by groups like the Kongwak ‘Lock the Gate’ organisation as being instrumental in his government introducing a permanent ban on fracking and unconventional gas mining.
And they’re one of the first jurisdictions in the world to do so.
Twelve months on from the announcement that the proposed ban would be made law, Minister Noonan travelled to the beautiful green rolling hills at Kongwak, to cut a ceremonial birthday cake, at the home of Margaret Williamson and Burt Blackburn to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the local community to oppose fracking and onshore unconventional gas development.
He also used it as an opportunity to bag his political opponents.
“It’s 12 months since the Premier and I were in the region to announce that once and for all we were bringing to the Parliament legislation that would permanently ban fracking,” he said last Tuesday.
“During the recess for Parliament in July I had the opportunity to visit this area and I don’t recall a community so united in its opposition to an issue as this one.
“Listening to the concerns of primarily local farmers, it was explained to me that not only were they concerned about the likely impact on their own livelihoods, that it went further than that.
“They regarded themselves as the custodians of the land for future generations and felt duty bound to protect the land, not only for its contribution to jobs and the local economy but also for future generations.
“They impressed upon me that the environment is the economy in this area and that anything that threatened the environment also threatened the economy and the community.
“The thing that struck me was that people who had never previously engaged in political action were engaged in this and not just the farmers. It was community wide.
“It’s quite incredible to think that in a small community around the Kongwak hills, for example, that of the 680 people living here, 624 in the area had registered their support for ‘Lock the Gate’.
“We’ve seen opposition in lots of communities but in South Gippsland you’re producing some of the best produce in the world and we need to be safeguarding that for the future, which is what the community was concerned about,” Mr Noonan said.
“We announced that in August last year and I’m proud to be able to come back here 12 months later having delivered on what we promised. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty and that was a big issue.
“So we’ve permanently banned all onshore unconventional gas exploration and development including hydraulic fracturing and coal seam gas and we’ve extended the moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration and development until June 30, 2020.
“The Victorian Gas Program arose out of the decision to ban fracking leading to the allocation of $42.5 million over four years, in the State Budget of 2017/18 to deliver a comprehensive program of geoscience and environmental research and related activities, including community engagement, resource planning and regulatory improvements for onshore conventional gas, offshore gas and underground gas storage.
“It will look closely at the gas resources which exist in Victoria and the issues associated with gas exploration and development to inform future decisions by the Victorian Government.
“But the reality is that the last onshore conventional gas activity took place in the Otway Basin and that’s where this work will largely be carried out, not in Gippsland.
“Josh Frydenberg and the Prime Minister would have us believe that Victoria is awash with onshore conventional gas but this program will decide that once and for all and inform our decision making but there’s no current proposal for onshore gas mining, nor is there any scientific information about prospects. This program is about quantifying that.
“But the focus will be on the Otway area, not Gippsland.
“We’re doing these scientific studies to prove once and for all if there are any conventional gas reserves.
“We are not doing this with any predetermined outcome. We’re doing it based on good science to put it beyond doubt if there are reserves or not. And we’ll bring that data to the table.”
He didn’t, however, rule out allowing onshore conventional gas production after 2020.
What about baseload energy?
We asked the Minister about the reliable supply of baseload energy in Victoria, rising energy costs and the concerns expressed the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that there could be severe power shortages this summer. What are you doing about that?
“A lot of these things are being drawn together. There’s a heated political battle going on but the reality is that we already have sufficient gas reserves in this country.
“There’s still good reserves of gas in Bass Strait and more going into the grid from near shore projects.
“But there’s enormous quantities of gas being produced on the east coast, following the rise of three LNG plants in Queensland. We’re exporting more gas than almost anywhere else in the world.
“The government just needs to ensure that our domestic gas needs are met first and foremost and that it’s not sold in Asian markets for lower prices than are being charged here.
“We’re on a path to supplying the most gas in the world and yet we’ve got federal politicians running around saying there’s a shortage of gas and that we’re stopping its production in Victoria. They need to work to ensure that domestic requirements are met first.
“Good policy is being lost for the sake of a political debate.
“I am sure that the impact of that pressure by Josh Frydenberg, by the Prime Minister and by Scott Morrison, who has threatened to withhold our GST payments, on any Coalition Government in Victoria would force them to overturn the ban on fracking and reverse the decision that has been so hard-fought for by communities in South Gippsland.”
He predicted it would be a hot issue right up until the State Election next year.
“We have banned fracking, enshrined it in law and given Victoria’s regional communities the certainty they deserve,” Mr Noonan said.
“Matthew Guy has done the opposite. He says one thing, and does another – he can’t be trusted to deliver for our regions.
“Under the Coalition’s watch, this ban will be overturned and the confidence we have built will be eroded.”
Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing agreed.
“We have delivered on our promises, banned fracking and put people first. That’s what good governments do.
“Gippsland is a proud region, and we will always get behind local communities to protect their farmland.”
Local Nationals MP, Danny O’Brien, said people were sick of hearing excuses about rising energy costs and the threats of blackouts this summer.
“They just want the politicians to get on with the job of fixing it.”