Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Victorian Liberals divide over new coal push

Submitted to Green Left Weekly
The planned expansion of coal mining in Victoria has seen the Member for Bass, Liberal MP, Ken Smith, come out against his own party on the issue.

On March 21, Bass Coast Shire Council resolved it “is totally opposed to new mining of coal, and to gas extraction associated with coal (unconventional gas), within the shire.”

The motion at Council requested the government to exempt land within the shire from the granting of both coal and unconventional gas exploration or mining licences.

In a radio interview the following morning, Smith told ABC Gippsland he supports the Council’s call.

“We’ve got a farming community down here, and the last thing that we need to have now is people exploring the countryside from the shoreline up into the hills, looking to dig the place up. We don’t want it, we don’t need it,” he said.

The incident occurs in a week that began with The Age revealing a leaked Cabinet document plans a campaign to “'address community concerns about the ongoing use of brown coal in a carbon-constrained future” with “'an aggressive and pro-active communications campaign… that demonstrates the continued relevance of brown coal in a carbon-constrained environment''.

Environment Victoria’s Mark Wakeham condemned the government over the leak. ““Coal is widely accepted as the largest contributor to climate change globally, threatening the health and survival of millions of people around the world.

“It is unthinkable that the Baillieu Government believes it is appropriate to run a PR campaign to improve coal's image. This is like running a taxpayer-funded campaign promoting the tobacco or asbestos industries.”

Resources minister Michael O’Brien has confirmed that the state government will be seeking expressions of interest for new brown coal allocations. At least two companies, Exergen and AECL, are known to be seeking allocations to export brown coal.

Federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, has expressed support. ''Brown coal exports represent the potential to develop new technologies, industry and jobs in the Latrobe Valley,'' he said.

Currently, exploration for brown coal resource has seen communities in many areas of the state mobilising in protest against mining exploration. Over 100 residents in Longwarry, just East of Melbourne, attended a community meeting against coal exploration in their area on March 19.

A campaign against exploration at Toongabbie in the Latrobe Valley achieved a small victory this week, when company Commonwealth Resources abandoned plans to explore for coal-seam gas (but continues to look for coal).

Community campaigns also remain strong in Bass Coast and Bacchus Marsh.

Friends of the Earth is calling for a moratorium across the state on new coal and gas projects. Spokesperson Cam Walker said “given the scale of the threat posed by this industry to our best farming land, the best outcome would be for the government to intervene and declare a moratorium on any new coal and gas exploration within the state until a thorough assessment has been made of the likely impacts of this industry”.

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