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Revealed: Metgasco's 'missing' letters to ministers

A protester screams at Police at The Doubtful Creek CSG mining site.
A protester screams at Police at The Doubtful Creek CSG mining site. Patrick Gorbunovs

FOUR "missing" letters sent from Metgasco to the NSW Government requesting a stronger police presence at anti-CSG protests at Glenugie last year have been exclusively released.

Four separate ministerial offices failed to hand over the documents last month, following a freedom of information request lodged by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge over alleged "political interference" in police operations during the 2012-13 blockade.

Their contents can now be revealed.

Throughout the correspondence from December 10, 2012 to February 6, 2013, Metgasco's Peter Henderson requested greater police involvement including a "permanent 24-hour police presence" to stop illegal protest actions hampering the company's operations.

He wrote that "the consequences of Metgasco having to suspend its operations in response to a small, unruly opposition group would be devastating to resource development and energy supply in NSW."

In a letter dated January 23 - at the height of the Glenugie blockade - Mr Henderson took argued that "police's efforts to uphold the law are in effect let down by an excessively lenient legal system".

"From what we have seen… our judiciary show a marked reluctance to do more than release people with good behaviour bonds and without convictions against their records," Mr Henderson wrote.

Civil disobedience activity that disrupts traffic and land access, damages property and involves threats, intimidation and physical violence is not peaceful protest, it is breaking the law

Metgasco CEO, Peter Henderson

This sent a message to the community that law breakers "were heroes"; it did "little to discourage law breaking" and protesters were free to break the law "essentially with impunity".

Mr Henderson alleged that: "…staff have been subjected to death threats, ongoing harassment and intimidation, including tailgating staff when they return to their homes, and bomb hoaxes".

The letter dated February 6, during the height of actions against the relocation of the company's drill rig from Glenugie to Doubtful Creek, featured a witness statement from a Metgasco truck driver which recounted having four "feral" people "rocking the car, getting on the roof jumping up and down… and hurling abuse from all directions", while filming with cameras.

The driver wrote of being subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse and being followed by a white vehicle which tried to "box me in".

Peter Henderson, Metgasco CEO.
Peter Henderson, Metgasco CEO. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

The letters were sent to four ministers; the then Energy Minister Chris Hartcher, Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, Police Minister Michael Gallacher, and Justice Minister Greg Smith.

The ministers' staff could not produce the letters after the Greens David Shoebridge requested them via a GIPA (Government Information Public Access) request.

Mr Shoebridge had taken steps to investigate potential "political interference" by the NSW Government in police operations during the protests in late 2012-early 2013; his investigation followed the dropping of charges against protesters at Glenugie by Lismore magistrate David Heilpern last year, who labelled the charges an "abuse of the processes of the court".

Last week Peter Henderson also provided the NSW Government with new copies of the letters, saying he stood by his decision to appeal to the government at the time.

"Metgasco makes no apologies for bringing the situation to the attention of the NSW Government and requesting support for its lawful activities," he said.

"We were clearly writing to say we felt that law and order should be maintained, which is what the police do. We have a legitimate business, we've been a good citizen of the community for 10 years, and people should be able to have differing opinions without this ongoing intimidation."

Mr Henderson said he opted to release the letters in light of what is expected to be a volatile protest at Bentley next month; saying protest actions there were "a repeat" of the behaviour at Glenugie and Doubtful Creek in 2013.

"Civil disobedience activity that disrupts traffic and land access, damages property and involves threats, intimidation and physical violence is not peaceful protest, it is breaking the law," he said.

Topics:  coal seam gas csg metgasco police



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