Speech: Coal seam gas extraction on Gamilaraay land
Last week I travelled to Gamilaraay land to hear from community members in Coonabarabran and Gunnedah living on the front line of coal seam gas expansion in the central west of New South Wales. These communities have been fighting against dirty coal seam gas drilling for years now. It was a privilege to reconnect with locals and activists who have had their lives upturned by coal seam gas.
The First Nations people I spoke to in Coonabarabran told me that, if the 850-plus wells of the Pilliga Narrabri gas project were to go ahead, gas wells would be constructed only a few kilometres from their homes. We know from previous gas expansions in the Queensland Surat Basin that there are real concerns about health impacts of living so close to coal seam gas wells, not to mention the damage to and destruction of Aboriginal culture and heritage, the environmental impact from the mass deforestation required to construct the wells or the huge amount of carbon emissions that would be released.
The First Nations people of Coonabarabran wanted to know why their Gamilaraay land, their culture and heritage, was being destroyed for a dangerous industry that has become irrelevant. They wanted to know why the government would let their precious water be poisoned and their air made toxic for a fossil fuel project that makes no sense when that there are renewable energy alternatives available right now. Sadly, they knew why: because the choice to destroy our planet is a political decision made time and time again by our so-called leaders and corporations in the pursuit of their profits and political gain.
I had the rare opportunity to celebrate the cancellation of the Shenhua Watermark Coal mine licence with the Gamilaraay people and the farmers in Breeza. This massive win came at the end of a 13-year campaign of relentless and powerful community opposition. It shows that change is possible when we fight for it. However, throughout the celebration, there was an acknowledgement in the community that the fight wasn't over, because, while they had fought off a coalmine, their land is still under siege from coal seam gas extraction and the prospect of the Queensland Hunter Gas Pipeline. The high-pressure pipeline is planned to run from Wallumbilla in Queensland to Newcastle, passing through valuable farming land in Moree, the Liverpool Plains and the Upper Hunter region. Such a pipeline will lock us into a dirty industry for decades to come, threatening the goals of the Paris climate agreement and leading billions of dollars away from investment in renewable energy.
These communities are sick and tired of their land being destroyed for profit-hungry billionaires and corporations. Those of us who live in the cities would be naive to think that we are not impacted by this destructive behaviour, because it is the regions that supply our water and it is the regions that supply our food. It is also the emissions from these projects driving the current climate crisis which has contributed to ever more intense and frequent fires and flooding across our country in the last few years. It is shameful that this government is using public money to subsidise climate criminals. Just look at the federal budget: $51 billion of public money for coal and gas corporations. They're out of control. The notion of a gas led recovery is farcical, especially now that we have the technology to support the production of clean energy.
However, we also must recognise that technology cannot be the only solution. We need climate justice. Climate justice means democratising energy and engaging communities in infrastructure decisions. Climate justice means handing First Nations land back to First Nations people to be cared for and protected. We know that a post-carbon economy in the hands of big corporations would be just as damaging as the system we live in today. It is clear that there is no hope for climate justice in our current capitalist, profit driven society. If we want to seriously address the climate crisis, we need to challenge the economic system that demands constant resource extraction. The only way we can do this is by coming together and demanding change, and we do have the power. As the end of Shenhua Watermark Coal mine licence shows, strong community resistance can lead to change. Together, we need to stay strong and demand climate justice in a future with First Nations sovereignty, green jobs and no more fossil fuels.