Labor MP Justine Elliot.
Labor MP Justine Elliot. John Gass

AWU pressures govt to unleash potential of CSG industry

THE Australian Workers' Union wants the New South Wales Government to "reduce red tape and existing barriers" standing in the way of the coal seam gas industry's expansion in the state.

A resolution calling on all governments to unleash the potential of the gas industry was passed by AWU national conference in Queensland on Tuesday.

Retaining gas for domestic use and a focus on "expansion of new supply in both natural and coal seam gas" were key tenets of the resolution.

But despite the resolution's wording on the issue of red tape, AWU national secretary Paul Howes said the CSG industry needed to be "heavily-regulated" because of the dangers it posed.

"Communities that are concerned about coal seam gas ... should have the ability to express those concerns to the producers and to the government that regulates the industry," Mr Howes said when asked specifically about the concerns of people in northern NSW.

"I'm not saying we don't need regulation. Of course we need regulation. This should be a heavily-regulated industry because it is a dangerous industry by its very nature."

Speaking to reporters after the vote Mr Howes said the anti-CSG lobby had been "very effective at spreading fear amongst the community".

And while he claimed he did not support cutting red tape, he was in favour of allowing the CSG industry to expand.

"But I believe like any extraction industry ... that it needs to be done safely and it needs to be done with concern for the environment," he said.

"There are safe ways to extract gas from coal seams; there are unsafe ways to extract gas from coal seams. But because there are unsafe ways it doesn't mean we have to stop it all together.

"We know what the benefits that gas provides for our manufacturing industry. We know about the jobs that are created with the extraction of gas."

Mr Howes conceded his views were at odds with a number of Labor Party MPs, including Justine Elliot and Janelle Saffin.

Ms Elliot, who quit as a parliamentary secretary earlier this month to focus on the fight against CSG in Richmond, said the AWU's position was a concern.

"But at the end of their day they're entitled to their opinion," Ms Elliot said.

"My first priority is always about expressing the concerns of locals and on this issue it is really clear - we don't CSG mining here."

The passing of the AWU resolution came on the same day NSW Premier

Barry O'Farrell revealed plans to ban CSG extraction within 2km of residential areas and industry clusters.

Interestingly the background accompanying the AWU resolution read NSW was "under investing in developing its vast CSG reserves".

Allowing the industry to expand would "unlock billions of dollars in investment and economic activity" and generate "thousands of jobs in rural and regional areas of NSW", it reads.

It was a sentiment echoed by Mr Howes, who accused the NSW Government of "grandstanding" by imposing the restrictions.

The AWU also unveiled plans for a national campaign designed to encourage governments to embrace a "sensible gas policy for Australia".

"The union over the coming weeks and months in the lead-up to the federal election will be campaigning across the country to ensure that this issue is front and foremost in the election campaign," he said.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters said Mr Howe's prediction of jobs being created by the expansion of the gas industry was a "red herring".

"It actually destroys more jobs than it will ever create because of the impact on the environment and industries like tourism and fishing," Senator Waters said.



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