Drew Hutton, founding member and President of Lock the Gate Alliance, appeared in the Magistrates Court of his hometown, Chinchilla, on Thursday.
Outside the Courthouse, Mr Hutton addressed about 60 supporters who had travelled from the Gold Coast, Gympie, Brisbane, Ipswich and the Darling Downs. After expressing his thanks for the support he had received, he made a stirring speech.
“I went to school in that little building over there, my father had a shop there, my parents had their house just around the corner — this is my country here and I’m fighting for it.”
In March, Drew Hutton was arrested under section 805 of the Petroleum and Gas Act 2004 and was charged with obstructing a Coal Seam Gas company without reasonable excuse — and may be fined up to $50,000, if found guilty.
The blockade was conducted on private land at Tara, south of Chinchilla, with permission from the landholder, Bryce Keating, and was an attempt to stop land clearing activities on the property. Mr Keating thought there was going to be a 20 metres wide pipeline corridor bulldozed through his property — but was horrified to learn that it was to be 40 metres wide and would take out 20 of his 50 hectares—two-fifths of his land.
Mr Hutton said:
“This is a man in poor health, he’s not a young man anymore, badly needs to go and live in a place where there are health services and he’s just going to have to walk off his property. He gets $1,400 a year for these people destroying his property.”
“Any landowner has to get a permit to clear land under the Vegetation Management Act but these csg companies are exempt from the State’s tree clearing laws and are busily clearing thousands of hectares of old growth woodland. They are also exempt from the Queenland Water Act 2000 and can take as much water as they want from the coal seam aquifer, yet a farmer has to get a permit and follow quite strict guidelines.”
Mr Hutton is concerned about landowners in this country being forced into situations where they are bullied and cajoled by huge companies into accepting them onto their property. He says many may not be able to sell their properties, yet they have to stand there and watch them being torn apart by these companies and have their lives wrecked. “It’s actually a tragedy that’s going on right around rural Australia,” said Drew Hutton.
The Residential Estates at Tara, about 300 km west of Brisbane, are rapidly becoming home to gas wells, compressor stations, pipeline corridors, holding ponds of contaminated water and access roads. There are about 500 people living on the Estates whose lives have been affected by coal seam gas mining. Many are concerned about the health risks associated with CSG mining, the damage to underground water and their future inability to sell their land. There is one family that has a gas well within 70m of their home and many others who have them 200 metres. One family did not want a well on their land — so QGC put the well across the road—200m from the family home.
Dayne Pratzky, one of the landowners, is disheartened every time he has to pay his mortgage as his land isn’t worth anything and it’s hard to live there but he is also very much aware of farmers and others who are in the same boat.
Dr Helen Redmond, from Doctors for the Environment Australia, a voluntary organization, has expressed concern about the short and long term health effects from the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process which assists in the extraction of coal seam gas.
‘Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend: you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators: you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.’ ~ Aldo Leopold, ecologist
This court case has been adjourned until 7 December 2011 in Dalby Magistrates Court.
To date there are 103 groups affiliated with the Lock the Gate Alliance.