INDEPENDENT candidate for the seat of New England Philip Cox has called on incumbent and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to “take a bullet for the team” over coal seam gas.
The Armidale solicitor has cruelled the federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources’ comments on the ABC’s Q&A program that coal seam gas was a state issue.
“If we go beyond our jurisdiction, it is just an issue for the High Court,” Mr Joyce said on the program.
But Mr Cox says that’s a cop out.
“Section 109 of The Constitution refers to inconsistency in laws where federal law prevails over state law,” Mr Cox said.
“And there’d be environmental protection laws at a federal level.
“They could be amended to put a further checkpoint in so that the issues of land contamination and water contamination can be addressed whereas currently they don’t appear to [be].
“In the house of reps, in the cabinet, there’s cabinet solidarity and for Mr Joyce to speak out against mining he would actually have to resign and he hasn’t done it.
“If he was really principled on it, you just wonder wouldn’t you stand up and take a bullet for the team?”
But Mr Joyce’s team have hit back at claims the Nationals have left coal seam gas issues with the states.
“The Nationals have a proud record in overturning the work of the state Labor government, reducing coal seam gas exploration licences from 60 per cent of the state to just eight per cent,” a Joyce spokesman said.
“Under the Nationals there will never ever be coal seam gas wells and coal mining on prime agricultural land.”
But Mr Cox reckons he has better experience to safeguard the region from coal seam gas, which he says is “wholesale destruction” of the land.
In 2010, Mr Cox worked with NSW Forests in negotiating a land access agreement to extract coal seam gas with Eastern Star Gas.
“Eastern Star Gas had offered a minimal amount of money based on the [Petroleum] Act saying it only had to compensate, it’s argument was that the Pilliga was of no commercial value and therefore the land was worthless and therefore the compensation should be a dollar, but they were giving slightly more than that.
“My argument was that the Pilliga was of great significance in the white cypress pine which was white ant resistant and the iron bark trees taking 100 years to reach maturity was of great significance of NSW and forests should be preserved.”
Before the deal was signed, Mr Cox said his contract expired and was not renewed.
“The bureaucrats were called in to sort it out, and the easiest way to sort it out was for me to be removed and of the contracts to be finalised by a bureaucrat,” he said.
“People loyal to me advised me that the deals were finalised and an abridged version of what I’d done and a fraction of the land access fees that I had negotiated.
“My experience is going head-to-head with the coal companies, their lobbyist and the gas company Eastern Star Gas.
“I know how tough they negotiate.
“I’ve never sold out to a gas company and I never will.
“In my view it’s not a state issue, it’s not a national issue; it’s an international issue.”
Mr Cox says he's learnt a lot from his short few weeks as an Independent candidate.
“You’ve got to have a strong moral compass," he says.
“I also now know why we’ve got so many dumb politicians, is because all they are is a face to stand where they’ve be been told to stand what to say and they can’t speak out against their party.
"I don’t know what’s going wrong with Australia at the moment; it just seems that we just challenge anything anymore.
“We’re just a nation of accepting what is just dished up."
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