INDEPENDENT Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell is pushing through with his pledge to legislate a 10-year moratorium on unconventional mining in the South East.
Mr Bell has introduced a private members bill, due to be read in parliament on July 4, and is hopeful the Liberal government will support it.
The Liberal party had gone to the polls with a policy of a 10-year moratorium on any exploration or development of unconventional gas in the Limestone Coast area, with this to be delivered in its first week of governing.
Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the government has stood by this promise, issuing a “very clear directive in policy” to the Department of Energy and Mining to “not allow or even consider” any proposals for fracking.
“If any company puts a proposal (for fracking) forward, it will be rejected,” he said.
“It couldn’t be clearer and it couldn’t be more definitive. It is a 10-year ban from our perspective.”
But Mr Bell said this proposal had not gone far enough. He would like to see the improved security of legislation in place.
“It needs to be legislated otherwise it is not a 10-year ban on fracking, it is at best a four-year ban – the Liberals can’t guarantee anything beyond four years,” he said.
“Ten years gives the community some certainty but it equally gives the mining companies the opportunity to work with the community for a decade and get the social license.”
Mr Bell said the 10-year period was important as it would allow time to find out more about the potential effects of fracking.
“The science will be decided one way or the other,” he said. “I’m very hopeful the Liberals will honour their 10-year commitment through legislation.”
Mr Bell said he had spoken to some members of the Labor Party about the issue.
“Labor has been very firm in the past in support of fracking and won’t be entertaining a 10-year ban at all,” he said.
“I have concerns that, at the next election, if Labor is back in power, it will allow fracking in the SE.”
Mr van Holst Pellekaan said a change of government at the next election could simply reverse any legislation, but Mr Bell argued this would be a more onerous task.
“If we don’t legislate, it’s very easy for the next minister or government to pick up the phone and change a directive on fracking in the SE,” Mr Bell said.
“If it is legislated, they’d have to go through the two Houses of Parliament.”
Mr van Holst Pellekaan said the Liberal party could not commit either way to supporting Mr Bell until it had a chance to view the proposed legislation.
Aquifer key to Limestone Coast’s prosperity
Billions of dollars in livelihoods could be put in jeopardy if unconventional mining were allowed in the South East, Mr Bell says.
“The entire community depends on the aquifer and if anything happens to it, we’ll be in a lot of trouble,” he said.
“There is viticulture with Coonawarra and other wine regions, forestry, sheep and cattle, fishing – that’s from the primary industries point of view, then we’ve also got tourism.”
Mr Bell said the science had not been conclusive about whether fracking was safe or if it was risking the underground aquifer.
He is less concerned with conventional drilling of oil and gas, saying they have been used in the region since the 1990s with few problems.
He said there are no proposals in place at present for fracking in the SE.
“If companies are saying they’re not intending to frack there anyway, why are they so opposed (to a moratorium)?” he said.
The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy was contacted for comment and did not respond before deadline.
But SACOME chief executive officer Rebecca Knoll has previously criticised the moves towards an “unwarranted” ban on natural gas development, with an opposition to a moratorium as one of the lobby group’s election priorities.
“Moratoria are inconsistent with the strong regulatory system, safety record and scientific facts of gas exploration and extraction practices in SA,” she said.
Ms Knoll said that bans on unconventional gas projects must be lifted to allow “affordable, reliable and secure energy” in Australia.
Opposition spokesperson for mining and energy Tom Koutsantonis was also contacted for comment