GROUNDSWELL Gloucester hopes to use crowd funding to pay a $26,000 bond required to establish a temporary campsite on Jacks Rd which was approved by Gloucester Shire Council last Wednesday.
Groundswell’s chairperson Julie Lyford has called on 1000 Australians to pay $30 each (to cover the bond and other council expenses) in support of the group and its fight against AGL’s coal seam gas operations in the valley.
“The Gloucester gas project is significant to all of NSW, not just the local community and those immediately downstream,” Groundswell chairperson Julie Lyford said.
“Everybody deserves the chance to peacefully object to bad laws and bad decisions and the camp allows ordinary people who cannot afford motels to do this.”
Council approved the temporary camp ground per the original recommendation with 27 conditions, including the $26,000 bond.
Gloucester Shire councillors voted five to one to approve the camp adjacent to AGL’s coal seam gas pilot drilling site.
Cr Jim Henderson opposed the motion while Cr Aled Hoggett was absent from the meeting.
Part of the standing-room-only public gallery at the meeting applauded when the vote went through after more than an hour of debate.
The plan to establish the camp had been a subject of intense interest and council received more than 668 submissions in the lead up to a decision.
The majority of those submissions - 547 - were in favour of the camp.
The council heard from seven speakers before making a decision and, while most of the meeting stayed civil, the mayor John Rosenbaum rebuked Advance Gloucester’s Rod Williams for likening the protesters to “flies” attracted to a “dung heap”.
Mr Williams said the community had the right to oppose “any need to artificially accommodate … people from outside of the community.”
Two of the speakers were from the NSW Police, who also strongly opposed the creation of the camp.
Manning-Great Lakes local area commander Superintendent Peter Thurtell said it would “cause enormous social unrest and conflict within the Gloucester community”.
“The reality is the sole purpose of the campsite is to provide a place for protesters to gather and that would include unlawful protest,” he said.
“The establishment of the camp will be the single biggest catalyst for protesters from outside the area to establish themselves in Gloucester for the purpose of protest.”
Police likened the establishment of the camp to the Bentley Blockade protest site.
Commander Thurtell said there were only three police stationed permanently in Gloucester and that they “didn’t have resources just sitting around waiting to be deployed”.
Cr Frank Hooke took umbrage at the comments by police.
He said Gloucester residents had a “right to the same level of protection as the rest of the community”.
Cr Hooke said he felt the NSW government had not listened to the people of Gloucester and had taken the side of a mining company over local residents.
“We asked to be treated the same as other parts of the State and included in the 2km exclusion zone (for residences impacted by coal seam gas activity),” he said.
“The government said it couldn’t happen because the project had already been approved, yet they changed the rules allowing AGL to frack without having to submit an Environmental Impact Statement.
“So the rules can be changed for AGL, but not for the town?”
Cr James Hooke said there was “no valid legal reason” to refuse the plan and joined his fellow councillor in blaming the State for putting the council in the position of having to make a decision.
“The government knew the approval (of coal seam gas pilot drilling) would generate protest yet it still made the decision,” he said.
“The community does not believe neutering this protest by blocking the camp is fair.”
Ed Robinson, who owns the Jacks Rd property where the camp will be established, said he believed everyone “has the right to protect the land, the air, and particularly here in Gloucester, the water”.
Gary Smith, a member of Groundswell Gloucester, said the number of submissions received in favour of the camp indicated it was “clearly in the public interest”.
Cr Jim Henderson, the only councillor who opposed the camp, said it was “anti-government, anti-AGL and anti-Gloucester”.
He said, by approving the development, council had signed its own death warrant.
AGL issued a statement saying it accepted council’s decision to approve the camp.
A spokeswoman said the company “supports any individual’s or group’s right to peacefully protest and understand that there are some people who will always be opposed to coal seam gas”.
“There are also locals who support the work we are doing to secure energy supplies for the people of NSW,” the statement read.
She said the company would “endeavour to work with the protest camp when possible”.
“We believe the 27 conditions the council placed on the camp’s approval, in particular the need for the camp to have their own security, the limited timeframe, maximum 200 people and noise restrictions, strikes a balance between the right to undertake our work, and their right to protest.”