On Saturday 1st November the Northern Rivers regional community came out in force once again to assert our determination to remain a gasfield free region. Estimates of the crowd varied but judging by the way the march filled the city centre the crowd was at least as large as the 7000 who marched in 2012 when the prospect of impending gasfields first galvanized our remarkable region into action. That’s one seventh of the population of Lismore, if that level of engagement occurred in Sydney it would see a march of 642000 people, contemplate that for a moment.
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As the head of the march completed a full circle of two blocks of the city centre, the marchers at the front had to pause to allow the tail of the crowd to pass by, hopefully there’s some aerial footage available to show the spectacle of the crowd stopping the city. There were very few bystanders left on the footpaths and those who were watched patiently or offered support to the marchers.

In true Northern Rivers style however it was very much more than your standard march and rally. The purpose of the day was to declare the entire region (the catchments of the Clarence, Richmond/Wilsons and Tweed rivers and everything in between) “Gasfield -free: Protected by Community”. What is so powerful about that declaration is the way it demonstrates a community that is prepared to grasp its own future with both hands have a vision and enforce that vision regardless of the dodgy deals that governments and corporations concoct for us.

Too often people remain passive in the face of corruption and destructive policies, and go cap in hand to politicians begging for small concessions. We know this doesn’t work when there’s big corporate dollars at play and there are times when a community is faced with a choice to step up to its place in history and make the change we want to see in the world. Our region has stepped up once again. At Bentley we stared down the threat of overwhelming state force and on the 1st of November we nailed our manifesto to the doors of the building. (Metaphorically).

The idea of the Northern Rivers as a gasfield free region has grown from a slogan into a movement, from a movement into a mass movement and from a mass movement into a realistic political claim on behalf of the region. Already we have the support of between 85 and 95% of the community based on a range of consistent data (including the Lismore Poll, SCU research in the Page electorate, the results of surveys in over 140 gasfield free communities). Local government across the region is supportive and now even the State labor opposition has agreed to protect the region (including Clarence) IF they form government next year.

Clearly we cannot wait for politicians to lead us we must lead them, and so at the rally 4 huge signs were officially launched and dispatched to the four arterial gateway roads into our beautiful region to welcome people to our gasfield free region. We have drawn a line in the sand for the government. Of course we know its not all about the Northern rivers, but if one community cannot resist the corporate state, then others can too and we do our best by creating an inspiring example for others.

The Premier was caught dumbstruck last week when he touched down in Ballina. Within 5 minutes of arriving in country he was met by a polite, charming but assertive group of locals and farmers, welcomed to the gasfield free region and offered a basket of gasfield free primary produce. Big mistake for the Premier to touch down in country without a decent policy on gasfields, his whole media day was taken over by the issue the LNP cannot hide from.

This brings us to the second part of the purpose of the rally, given that this community has asserted its ongoing right to remain gasfield free, the government needs to do the right thing and cancel all the exploration licenses. An act of contrition owed to us by governments who tried to sell our land from under us. And why not cancel the licenses? They are worthless now anyway. Arrow and Dart left the region long ago and Metgasco hovers in limbo with a business model that is terminally broken.

The rally was a great success with people from all walks of life, indigenous people, farmers, townspeople, everyone in fact united together for our common future. This unity we have built in the Northern Rivers over this issue is hopefully the start of a re-invigorated local democracy, where we throw off the shackles of corporate government and start to make our demands for our collective future.

We have an election coming in March next year and its time to really put some energy into achieving a clean sweep of the people whose job it is to represent us in parliament. The National Party has utterly failed us over gasfields and deserve to be tossed out, but it wont be easy. The existing voting system favours incumbents, so we all need to spread the word for the coming state election… for a gasfield free Northern Rivers: Enroll! Vote! Number every square and put the Nationals last!.

This article was first published in the Nimbin Good Times, November 2014.
Images collected from the Twitter stream of Lock the Gate.

 

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