November 9, 2014 – 10:00AM
By Keryn Reynolds
You can also find this report in The Age: ‘Victorian State election 2014: Get the frack out of here, Nationals candidate says’
The National Party candidate in the key goldfields marginal electorate of Buninyong has contradicted her party’s policy on coal seam gas mining, telling a forum in the electorate that she wants a ‘frack-free Buninyong’.
Ms Sonia Smith told the forum on Thursday night: ‘As long as I am the sitting member there will never be fracking, or it will be over my dead body. I will do whatever it takes to protect our water and food security.’
The National Party supports the current moratorium on fracking in Victoria but has previously voted against a permanent ban.
Ms Smith’s latest environmental position left Buninyong’s Greens candidate Tony Goodfellow, bemused.
‘If elected she may have to vote with the Greens on this issue, which I certainly welcome,’ Mr Goodfellow told the forum.
A moratorium on fracking – the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth – and onshore gas exploration has been in place in Victoria since August 2012 and is due to expire in July next year.
Meanwhile fracking is becoming a critical issue in the Buninyong electorate. Three fracking licenses, issued to Mantle Mining, are centered around Bacchus Marsh.
Earlier this year the Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Russell North, started a year-long community consultation process on the potential environmental risks for an onshore gas industry in Victoria.
Until the consultation process is finished, it is unlikely that the Liberal or National parties will say whether they support extending the moratorium.
However laws were passed in September banning some chemicals in fracking fluids, suggesting that the government is preparing for a lifting of the moratorium.
About 70 people attended Thursday night’s forum, which was hosted by Ballarat Green Drinks, an informal environmental group not affiliated with any political party.
The Nationals Ms Smith, Green’s Ripon candidate Mr Rod May and the incumbent Labor MP Mr Geoff Howard all spoke. Greens Buninyong candidate Mr Tony Goodfellow also attended the event. Buninyong Liberal candidate Mr Ben Taylor declined to attend the event due to other commitments.
While Ms Smith’s position on fracking was abundantly clear, other candidates were less controversial.
Mr Howard said ‘the science was still out’ on fracking.
Mr Goodfellow told UniPollWatch that the Greens want a permanent ban on fracking, onshore gas development and new coalmines in Victoria.
‘This is a fork in the road moment for fracking in Victoria. With balance of power the Greens can stop fracking in Victoria.’
Last year when put to a parliamentary vote the Greens were the only party to support a permanent ban on fracking across Victoria.
At the time, Victorian Greens Leader Greg Barber invited the National Party to join the Greens to support a permanent ban, but all Labor, Liberal and National party members voted against.
Recently Mr Barber again called on both Labor and Liberal parties to join him by ‘permanently and unconditionally‘ banning onshore gas drilling in Victoria.
For an overview of issues related to fracking, go to: Parliament of Victoria – Unconventional Gas: Coal Seam Gas, Shale Gas and Tight Gas.
Keryn Reynolds is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne