THE woman who led the campaign to stop a controversial Gloucester coal seam gas project has backed AGL’s refusal to break under government pressure to sell Liddell power station, and revealed the key role played by AGL chief executive Andy Vesey in stopping the Gloucester project.
Groundswell Gloucester founder Julie Lyford said the Turnbull Government’s public campaign to pressure the Liddell sale to AGL rival Alinta was “outrageous”, but her two meetings with Mr Vesey in 2015 showed he was “not the kind of chief executive who would buckle under government pressure”.
In a new book about the coal seam gas campaign, The Town That Said No to AGL, Gloucester barrister John Watts reveals how Mr Vesey agreed to meet with Groundswell Gloucester shortly after taking up the chief executive’s position, and by February, 2016 announced AGL was withdrawing from coal seam gas projects.
“The one big thing that struck me about Andy Vesey was that he clearly believes and is passionate about climate change and is changing his company for the future. He wasn’t just a smooth talker at our meetings with him,” Ms Lyford said.
“I think he is strong, he has integrity and he’s dealing with a government that’s fossil-fuel driven, but I think he’s determined to close Liddell for the right reasons.
“It’s a great shame to see people in extremely powerful positions using that power to denigrate what has the potential to be one of our most progressive power companies and the chief executive leading it.”
The one big thing that struck me about Andy Vesey was that he clearly believes and is passionate about climate change and is changing his company for the future. He wasn’t just a smooth talker at our meetings with him.- Groundswell Gloucester founder Julie Lyford on AGL's Andy Vesey
Ms Lyford made the comments before The Town That Said No to AGL is launched at State Parliament on Wednesday.
In it Mr Watts reveals how the impact of the coal seam gas project and a separate proposal for a coal mine close to the town split the Gloucester community and leaves scars that remain to this day.
He also reveals his shock at a coal seam gas approval process that did not require an assessment of the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in an environmental impact statement for the project, despite a proposal to drill 330 coal seam gas wells.
Mr Watts said he was also shocked to find that mining and planning laws were “completely different to anything I had experienced”.
“It started to seem to me to be a bit like dancing with a column of smoke,” he said of the mining assessment and approval process.”
Mr Watts said public statements from AGL and the NSW Government before 2015 were designed to pressure the Gloucester community over the alleged consequences of the coal seam gas project not proceeding, but were misleading.
“In 2014 AGL and the NSW Government predicted that unless AGL was allowed to get on with its gas fracking activities in the Gloucester Valley there would be a sudden unavailability of gas by the middle of 2015,” Mr Watts wrote.
“As I recall it, they were actually suggesting that on cold winters’ nights in July 2015 little old pensioners would be freezing to death because a bunch of left-wing greenie, self-funded retiree-type ’60s activists were unreasonably trying to prevent AGL from extracting gas from underneath a bunch of cow paddocks near Gloucester – a gas field they said had the ‘potential’ to supply 15 per cent of the state’s gas requirements.”
What the government and AGL comments did not say was that Australian gas exports were behind the gas shortages.
The book includes a section written by Ms Lyford in which she alleges coal seam gas industry “infiltrators” in bizarre animal outfits and revealing clothing tried to undermine the anti-coal seam gas group’s public campaign.
Ms Lyford alleges two “infiltrators” screamed profanities and acted aggressively or inappropriately in the town and at public protests in an attempt to discredit the campaign.
She said the Gloucester campaign was a response to a government that “rode roughshod over democratic rights” by an “enlightened, networked and professional uprising from citizens who were badly wronged”.
“Many who fought this long battle are still shocked by what they witnessed, and are to this day affected by the cavalier attitude of government officials and how badly they, the people, were treated by certain members of parliament and AGL,” Ms Lyford said.
“Many ordinary people became accidental and reluctant activists.”
John Watts’ book is available at email@example.com
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