I awoke the day after the Metgasco court decision with this mental image of a horror movie sequel.

faceless-man-in-suitLike Valdemort being revived in each new Harry Potter movie, or the re-emergence of Sauron on middle earth, a persistent but disembodied menace stalks the region threatening its peaceful way of life and disturbing the workings of government. Indeed corporations are a disembodied foe, they are not of nature, they don’t breath air, drink water nor have families of their own, their only true allegiance is to the stock market that has brought them to life. They can act only through their earthly servants and through the public officials they can influence. And so begins the immediate post-election life of the Northern Rivers.

Enough of the nightmare, what of the reality? The really disturbing outcome of the Court’s decision is the confirmation that the Petroleum Onshore Act 1991 is a toothless instrument that fails to equip government with effective control of the gas industry. We headed into an election with reassurances from all government politicians that the Northern Rivers licences would be bought back and that we were just waiting for the Metgasco decision to move forward on that front. Instead we see the gas plan in tatters as the government loses control.

Metgasco’s threats to return to battlefield Bentley have an air of vengeance about them, the good folk of the region would of course resist them but there are other more reasonable options to explore first. It is wrong that a single speculative gas company could bludgeon their way forward against the wishes of the local community, local government and even state government, and it need not be that way, the government has the power to stop Metgasco still.

The current mess is of the government’s own making, and the government can fix it. In the months leading up to the Bentley Blockade the government removed s24A Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991. That section alone provided the government with the power it needed to cancel or suspend any aspect of a petroleum operation where it was in the public interest to do so. It took a single afternoon in parliament to remove this section, it would take no longer to bring it back. The return of this one section would enable the state government to negotiate with Metgasco from a position of strength and to avoid the trauma of Metgasco returning to Bentley. It’s time for the government to use its power and legislate in the public interest.

This article was originally published in the Northern Rivers Echo on 29 April, 2015.


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