Independent NSW MP, Justin Field, has accused the NSW National Party of running scared from a debate on legislation to cancel twelve so-called ‘Zombie’ coal seam gas exploration licences, in an attempt to avoid putting their position on the parliamentary record before the Upper Hunter by-election.
Today, the Coalition Government used a parliamentary tactic to send the Zombie PELs legislation, introduced last week, to a snap inquiry, avoiding debate and a final vote that was scheduled to occur tomorrow. The legislation has been publicly supported by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and key independent candidates as part of the Upper Hunter by-election.
Independent NSW MP Justin Field said, “the National Party is running scared from the Zombie PELs issue. You would think if they wanted the community to know their position on these licences they would have gladly welcomed the debate.
“For all the words from various Nationals Ministers and MPs claiming they want these PELs dealt with, what does it say that they are now hiding behind an inquiry to avoid the party putting a formal position on the Parliamentary record?
“Last month Nationals leader John Barilaro said he was in negotiations with Santos over these PELs. I’m calling on the Deputy Premier to come clean with communities about the nature of these negotiations.
“This legislation is supported across the board by farming communities and their representative bodies. This week, the Country Women's Association of NSW came out publicly supporting the Bill. NSW Farmers also called for bipartisan support for extinguishing the zombie licences from valuable agricultural land.
In 2019 the NSW Nationals Annual Conference, passed a motion calling on the NSW Government to extinguish all zombie PELs in NSW. National Party candidate for the Upper Hunter, David Layzell, has committed to fight for the Zombie PELs to be “snuffed out”. In October last year the Member for Northern Tablelands and Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall, told the Moree Champion that he had written to the CEOs of both Santos and Comet Ridge, "imploring" them to relinquish those PELs. Local Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson has also called for the PELs to be “squashed”.
Mr Field said, “This has been National Party policy for nearly two years, with party members and their Parliamentary representatives calling for the PELs to be cancelled, but because of their obsession with gas and the significant federal political donations taken from Santos, they have failed to adopt it and left farming communities in the lurch.
The twelve expired PELs extend over more than 55,000 square kilometres between the Upper Hunter and the Queensland border with four covering the North and West of the Upper Hunter electorate including Scone, Quirindi, and Merriwa (see map below).
In 2020 the Independent Planning Commission gave the Santos Narrabri Gas Project conditional approval triggering public announcements by gas companies that they intend to pursue the renewal of expired licences and recommence exploration across the region.