PETER Campbell, President of the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance (MCA) asked the by-election candidates who would support the organisation in finding an alternative route for a proposed Ausgrid power line.
Local landholders are concerned the two high voltage power lines proposed to run along 180 kilometres of land from Merriwa towards Cassilis, will heavily impact routine farming operations. (See: Power line corridor impacts farming)
In a room full of Merriwa locals, Mr Campbell posed the question: “Who is going to support us and if elected how would you enact that support within government to enable the line to be moved to an alternative route that does not affect the strategic agricultural land?”
Kate Fraser said she would not be endorsing the placing of powerlines on viable agricultural land provided there are alternative reserves or other areas. “I know having those lines going throughout the property, that’s how we got St Johns Wart,” she said.
Sue Abbott said she wanted to meet and chat with the alliance, to hear their thoughts and suggestions of an alternative transmission line route. She didn’t provide a yes or no answer but insisted she wanted to “hear what everybody has to say.”
Jeff Drayton said the project should never have been classed as a “state critical infrastructure” but instead a “state significant project” because of the completely different consultation processes. ” I certainly don’t believe in locking up thousands of acres of agricultural land,” he said.
Tracy Norman said she does not agree with any infrastructure project destroying agricultural land. “We need to feed and provide shelter for people,” she said. “I know it’s for a renewable energy source but big boys and their big toys, I mean, is it absolutely necessary? Can we look at decentralising energy options as well?” she questioned. Ms Norman said she would advocate for the project to be moved to other land.
Sue Gilroy said the Shooters Farmers and Fishers Party, who have met with MCA would support the alliance through the due process fo consultation. “Are they necessary number one? Are we putting them through prime agricultural land for a reason? Is there a rerouting process that would work?” she questioned. Ms Gilroy said if elected, she would ensure landholders were given a fair go and “if it has to be built, let’s reroute it,” she said.
Dale McNamara said, “we won’t allow it, we’ll fight.” He said there’s a lot of people turning up from Sydney, who come up and go “this is where it’s going to go and the decisions been made, they go back to Sydney and you have to live under and work your farm under their decisions.” Mr McNamara then chose the opportunity to address Greens candidate Sue Abbott saying, “It’s really great to hear that you’re going to build a slush fund from coal mines to meet what you require as a green.” Mr McNamara then spoke about the invasiveness of proposed wind farms in Muswellbrook, which would only employ 15 people. He said One Nation is not against renewable energy. “I started working in coal mines because there weren’t much money milking cows.” He re-confirmed One Nation would pledge to stand against the power lines and push for a clean coal-fired power station.
Steve Reynolds said he agreed with Jeff Drayton’s comments on the project being given state significance rather than critical status. He said if there’s an alternative route, it should be used. “Dale must have read my Coal Face article today, everything doesn’t just look good on a laptop and work out in communities,” he said. Mr Reynolds said if elected, he would make noise in Sydney, ensure the MCA voice is heard. “That’s the idea of being an Independent, for us to get out there, be in the community and make sure you’re heard,” said Mr Reynolds.
Archie Lea said he is for farmers and “you work hard for that land.” He said he’s “not crazy about wind farms” because of poisonous gas which goes back into the soil and lasts for years. Mr Lea said he’d like more information from the alliance and there should be an alternative route. “Give us the info we’ll support you,” he said.
David Layzell said he had two sessions with the alliance and commended their “professional and reasonable approach” towards the problem. “It’s hard for people in Sydney to understand how much it is affecting out landholders,” he said. Mr Layzell said time is of the essence and “we didn’t have enough time to wait for the election.” He made representations to Deputy Premier John Barilaro and managed to get the MCA a meeting with him and the Minister for Energy Mat Kean on May 12 at 4 pm. “So that you guys can raise your concerns direct to them and see if we can find a way to resolve this,” said Mr Layzell.
Kristy O’Connell said Members of Parliament do not understand the planning process and aren’t able to provide good advice on how communities participate in the process. She said she has 15 years of personal experience advocating for communities to help them shape major projects for the better. Ms O’Connell congratulated David Layzell for organising the meeting, calling it a positive step forward. “I only hope we see the exact same level of attention post-election,” she said. “We’ve been advocating quite hard for the last three years to speak with Mat Kean, Rob Stokes and the Premier and we certainly didn’t get immediate meetings,” said Ms O’Connell. Ms O’Connell said thousands of local landowners are being impacted by mining exploration. “Everybody else on this panel who said they wouldn’t advocate for landowners and yet everyone’s in furious agreement that they would advocate for your group because they sensed it was a hot button issue for Merriwa . . . regardless of whether I’m elected, I’m happy to continue providing advice . . . I only hope you choose someone who is well equipped to advocate for you as more major infrastructure projects are being delivered,” she said.
Eva Pears said she was reluctant to speak on a specific issue she’s not familiar with and doesn’t know the details of. “On the face of it from what I’ve heard tonight, it seems like this is an example of the state encroaching on your private property, which in principle I would never support,” she said.
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.