Minister warns anti-coal seam gas group will 'turn on farmers'
"These protest groups will soon turn on NSW farmers" ... Chris Hartcher.
The NSW Resources and Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has written to newspapers in regional and rural areas seeking to discredit groups involved in an anti-coal seam gas protest outside State Parliament tomorrow, warning they will "turn on" farmers.
The rally is being supported by the NSW Farmers Association, the Nature Conservation Council and other groups opposed to the state government's draft strategic land use policy for where and how coal and coal seam gas mining and exploration may occur.
The groups say the government has reneged on an election promise to quarantine sensitive agricultural and environmental land from mining exploration.
In the letter, Mr Hartcher says organisers of one of the groups, Stop CSG Illawarra, belong to the Socialist Alliance, a political party whose agriculture policy includes "sharply reducing cattle and sheep numbers … to minimise methane emissions per head".
He says another group, GetUp, "has continuing campaigns to ban live cattle exports".
"Now that the government has toughened controls on CSG activities, these protest groups will soon turn on NSW farmers," Mr Hartcher warns.
"If these groups succeed in stopping exploratory drilling, how long will it be before they reduce farming viability and stop farmers from drilling bore holes?" he asks.
The letter was sent to about 30 newspapers and copied to Coalition MPs.
The national director of GetUp, Simon Sheikh, said Mr Hartcher should apologise, as it was "not currently campaigning" on live exports.
"The cheap attempted smear is just plain wrong," Mr Sheikh said.
A Socialist Alliance representative, Paul Benedek, acknowledged some of the party's members were involved in Stop CSG Illawarra but said there were also members of the Greens and the Labor Party involved.
Mr Hartcher's comments appeared to be "good old-fashioned red-baiting before Tuesday's rally", Mr Benedek said.
But Mr Hartcher said yesterday: "Farmers ought to be wary of professional political organisations masquerading as grassroots community groups".
Last week, the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, was criticised for saying farmers were becoming "almost irrelevant" in the consultation process because of the NSW Farmers Association's opposition to the draft land use policy.
The NSW Nationals have also called on the government to alter the policy so agricultural land is "ring-fenced" from mining.