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Annie Marlow, from the Illawarra Knitting Nannas Against Gas (IKNAG – pronounced ‘I nag’), updates the issues around coal seam gas (CSG) mining in NSW. The Knitting Nannas see elections as an opportunity to lobby politicians, many federal ones being blessed with a ‘knit-in’ during the election campaign.

Federal politicians run the line that coal seam gas is a state issue but the Knitting Nannas counter that the protection of water is a national issue. The state government has purchased back all the petroleum exploration licences (PELs) within Sydney’s drinking water catchment but there is still no legislated ban, which makes the Knitting Nannas uneasy as CSG mining is a threat to surface water and groundwater. Some state coalition politicians also make the point that there is no reason to put anything into legislation because legislation can be changed. 

The Knitting Nannas counter argument is that it is much harder and more public to change legislation whereas politicians’ promises have a history of being less reliable. The Baird government has placed a moratorium on any new CSG mining in NSW but with the possible intention of lifting it soon. Santos is still mining CSG in The Pilliga and AGL has 90 CSG wells operating near Camden. These wells are very close to houses and some of the drilling is underneath them. Families are reporting their children are constantly sick, similar to the blood noses, breathing difficulties and headaches experienced by residents at Tara in Qld. AGL has said its Camden gasfield will close in seven years but the long term health impacts are not yet known, and AGL has a history of leaking wells and water contamination in Camden.

 I KNAG and other Knitting Nannas from Sydney joined the Australian Mothers Against Gas Mining and Lock the Gate Sydney who marked their third year of weekly rallies against the Camden gas fields, outside AGL head office in North Sydney recently. The people of North Sydney are very familiar with the rallies by now; the rally will move to Angel Place in the city, to protest at AGL’s AGM on 28 September. 

The black and gold colours, the protest songs and the knitting part of the Knitting Nannas, also black and gold, make the rallies very noticeable. The mothers are from the Camden area and are very active on Facebook. There is a lot of grass root support in the northern rivers area of NSW resulting in the Greens taking the state seat of Ballina at the last elections. The amount of disruption the community was prepared to take against the mining companies contributed to the state government buying back the licences. Such powerful community action gives the Knitting Nannas optimism and energy to keep going.

According to Annie Marlow, at a recent COAG meeting the federal Resources Minister advised states and territories that all moratoriums on CSG mining should be lifted and CSG production should be increased. NSW is undertaking a review to determine which areas are suitable for CSG mining and there are no exclusions, for instance drinking water catchments, prime agricultural areas, or iconic natural areas, which again makes the Knitting Nannas nervous. In June the Baird government brought in changes to protest laws that Annie believes undermine the democratic right to protest.

Maximum fines have increased from $500 to $5,500 or seven years gaol, which instigated some cartoons in the press showing gaols full of Knitting Nannas. At the same time the government reduced the penalties for mining companies who breach their license conditions, including instances of serious water and land pollution, from around $100,000 a day to a once-off fine capped at $5,000. AGL have said they are moving into renewables and Santos is in financial difficulties, not helped by the bottom falling out of the gas market. The mixed messages from government sources, however, mean that there is still a CSG gasmask in NSW.

Annie Marlow was recorded for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text by Victor Barry. Images from Annie Marlow, September 2016.

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