Victorian by-elections show anti-gas sentiment not as strong as claimed

November 6th, 2015

By-elections in two neighbouring Victorian State seats have demonstrated again that opposition to development of natural gas resources is not as strong as activists would have us believe.

Coal-seam gas was identified as a key issue in the by-elections, in the seats of Polwarth and South-West Coast —  even though there is no CSG development proposed in the area (tight rock and shale the most common formations in the area).

The Greens campaigned hard on this issue, telling voters that CSG had to be banned, or the region’s agriculture and water  would be ruined.

This was despite a history of previous activity in both areas, without environmental problems and advice from the Victorian Environment Department that natural gas development in both western Victoria and Gippsland (eastern Victoria) was “low risk”.

As alarming as it was, the Greens argument was apparently not convincing, because the Greens vote actually fell.

South-West Coast, the seat of former Premier Dennis Napthine, is centred around the whale-watching town of Warrnambool and even on election day was tipped to be “in the balance”.

Environmental activists had claimed that Mr Napthine’s seat would be at risk because of the strong anti-gas vote and the fact that the high profile independent candidate opposing the Liberals was against CSG and would draw votes away.

This prediction proved wrong.

The Liberal vote held up, delivering a comfortable victory to the new Liberal member , Roma Britnell, with 40% of the primary vote and 60% of the two-party preferred vote.

And the the Greens vote?  It went down.

At the State election last year, the Greens polled 9% of the vote in South-West Coast.  In the by-election, the Greens share of vote fell to 7%.

In the seat of Polwarth, the Greens did better, but the Liberal candidate had an even bigger win, gaining almost 50% of the primary vote and 65%  of the two-party preferred vote,

On the strength of these outcomes, the State Labor Government should think carefully before being pushed toward a ban on gas development – a ban which would unnecessarily  foster future supply uncertainty, potential price rises and big job losses in manufacturing.

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