Independent NSW MP Justin Field has slammed the NSW Liberal/National Government for failing to appear at a parliamentary inquiry into legislation to extinguish twelve so called ‘Zombie’ Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) across North Western NSW, describing the no-show as a “sign of the NSW Nationals contempt for regional communities”.
Mr Field said, “The Government has shown utter contempt for regional communities, first kicking this legislation off to an inquiry to avoid the debate and vote before the Upper Hunter by-election and now failing to make a submission to the inquiry and declining to even appear. It is shameful behaviour when their failings have left communities living with the uncertainty of these licences for years.”
The new Member for the Upper Hunter, David Layzell, seemed to shift his position on the Zombie PELs immediately after the election, pledging in his first speech to remove PELs which have ‘no chance of actually being used’.
Mr Field said, “You would think the NSW National party would stand up for farmers and water and protect agricultural land but instead their primary consideration seems to be what areas the gas industry wants to explore in.”
“Resources Minister and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro said in April his Government has been in negotiations with Santos over their expired licences. But we heard today that farming groups, local government and other stakeholders have all been left out of the loop when it comes to these negotiations.
“Today’s no show by the Government is an example of how the National Party and gas industry work on the basis of backroom deals with little transparency or accountability to the community.
“We also heard today that any of these zombie PELs renewed by the Government will avoid the regulatory framework they introduced in 2014 to address community concerns over impacts on agricultural land and water and to introduce community consultation before licences are issued.
“Without this legislation or something similar, these licences will fall through a massive loophole in the Government’s gas plan and leave many communities across the North West of the state deeply exposed to risks from this industry,” Mr Field said.
Community representatives from the Country Women’s Association of NSW, Caroona Coal Action Group and Lock the Gate Alliance as well as legal experts and the Deputy Mayor of the Upper Hunter Shire Council all attended today’s hearing.
Santos and Comet Ridge as holders of a number of the expired PELs as well as the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) all declined to appear at the hearing.