Voters near gas projects reject activist anti-gas mantra

July 8th, 2016

If Malcolm Turnbull’s Government is to be returned, following Saturday’s very close federal election, then regional seats will have played a big part in his success.

While Coalition seats in some regional areas did fall to Labor, a number had been identified as seats which the left-of-centre political forces were publicly stating they were confident of wresting from the Liberal-Nationals.

Those forces which have been aligned against resource development were at the forefront of predicting Armageddon for the Coalition – whether commenting from capital cities (as is often the case) or regional centres.

As it turned out, they were wrong.  Sitting MPs have retained their seats — just as they did in last year’s State election in NSW – and the Green vote has had little impact.

In the NSW election, there was a prolonged and sustained aggressive attack on sitting Nationals MPs in seats close to proposed natural gas developments.  But as we explained at the time, the campaigns failed to dislodge their targets, who in some cases actually increased their share of the vote.

Much the same outcome was evident in Saturday’s federal poll.

Anti-gas candidates from the Greens and independent ranks failed to achieve their aims, despite preference deals among themselves and with Labor.

As we tipped before last weekend’s poll, the National Party’s sitting members in the three most relevant seats in NSW — Page, Parkes and New England in NSW – were all returned, despite the vigorous  anti coal-seam gas campaigns waged against them.

The Nationals also comfortable retained Maranoa, the Queensland seat where CSG development has been a positive feature of the landscape for close on a decade.

In Maranoa, a totally new Nationals candidate was elected,  following the retirement of Nationals stalwart Bruce Scott after 25 years in Parliament.

After the announcement of Mr Scott’s planned retirement, last year, the local newspaper conducted a poll which reportedly found that 83% of residents wanted a new face in the electorate.  This had a familiar ring to the push-poll efforts by anti-CSG campaigners Lock The Gate, who regularly report that 90% or more of locals are against natural gas development.

But whatever the local paper, or LTG found with their polling, the facts were a little different on polling day.  The new Nationals candidate, David Littleproud finished with 66% of the vote – more than double his nearest rival.  The Greens polled only 3% of the primary vote, despite literally having spent the past three years telling the electors in the area that CSG represented the total  destruction of their environment and way of life.

Much the same message was delivered in the three NSW seats.  Buoyed by their success in stopping a proposed development by staging a law-breaking protest at Bentley, in northern NSW, anti-gas campaigners did their best to frighten voters into tipping out the Nationals MPs.

In New England, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce was under attack, and the anti-CSG forces were at the forefront, attempting to embarrass him at public meetings and on national TV, on a platform provided by the ABC’s Q&A program.

The Greens had high hopes Mr Joyce could be toppled, with sharing of preferences with independent candidate and former member for New England, Tony Windsor.

The result was expected to be very tight, with the possibility that Mr Joyce could lose. He didn’t and it wasn’t. Mr Joyce had a comfortable victory, scoring  59% of the two-party preferred  vote, compared with Mr Windsor’s 41%.  The Greens  polled a meagre 2.7% of the primary vote.

In Parkes Mark Coulton had a strong win, with 65% of the two-party vote, compared with Labor’s  Kate Stewart, 35%.  The Greens picked up 6.2% of first preferences.

In Page, Kevin Hogan retained his seat, winning  52% of the two-party vote, compared with Labor’s Janelle Saffin reaching 48%.  The Greens picked up 10% of first preferences..

As these results show, the strong left-wing predictions were plainly and simply wrong.  The “rising tide” as one coat-based academic put it, did not even get close to engulfing the sitting members.

And of course, in the Senate, the champion of the anti-CSG activists, Senator Glenn Lazarus, did not get a quota.  In the absence of an opaque preference swapping deal with minor Parties, he could not muster the votes to get elected.

The people of regional NSW and Queensland are well entitled to be highly cynical about future claims of community sentiment being ‘right behind’ the CSG protest movement.

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