ANGER and frustration about coal seam gas mining on the Northern Rivers reached fever pitch yesterday during State Planning Minister Brad Hazzard's visit to Lismore for a public meeting on CSG.
At least 800 anti-CSG protesters and Northern Rivers locals flooded into Lismore City Hall for the event, with a lack of seating at first forcing police to delay proceedings. While presented as an opportunity for senior public servants to answer questions about the government's recently released CSG policy, such was the vocal opposition to the policy that the hapless panel was often inaudible.
On several occasions audience members jeered and shouted at panel members, while many turned their backs in a symbol of defiance.
Lismore MP Thomas George and Mr Hazzard struggled in vain to control the meeting, with Mr George at one point
threatening to end the meeting early.
Audience questions covered a wide spectrum of CSG-related concerns, including a lack of regulation, lack of popular support, threats to biodiversity and water, and more recently the industry's potential impact on climate change.
Several scientists fired questions to the panel including SCU's Dr Isaac Santos, who asked the ratio of groundwater monitoring wells to drilling wells. The answer was not forthcoming.
At one point, a child was met with a standing ovation when she asked Mr Hazzard to "promise me my animals won't get poisoned".
"We are sensible intelligent beings," one audience member announced. "You are not addressing any of our concerns."
After Mr Hazzard closed the meeting, a chorus of protesters shouting "No means No" followed the panel as they left the building.
Mr George labelled the meeting an embarrassment, saying both he and Mr Hazzard were spat on while leaving.
Mr Hazzard called it "10 out of 10 for a demonstration, 0 out of 10 for a try at a community exchange of concerns". "Nothing about this morning's meeting will stop us from trying to reach a fair and open policy for those who genuinely want to take part in a conversation on the issue," he said.
Lock The Gate Northern Rivers spokesman Ian Gaillard said the emotions were legitimate. "Unconventional gas is unsafe and that's why people are emotional - it's their livelihood at stake. Your land, the place you live, the purchase of your house are the biggest decisions you make in your life," Mr Gaillard said.
Richmond LAC Inspector Rob Dempsey said community members were acting within their rights to protest and there were no reportable incidents.