Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

There are no ‘teal’ independents running in the seat of Tamworth, so many locals have been perplexed as why there are Climate 200 videos featuring Liverpool Plains farmers urging people to vote independent.

Climate 200 describes itself as a community crowdfunding initiative that provides political funding to climate-focused community independent candidates. Those candidates are colloquially referred to as ‘Teals’ because of the colour a number of the more prominent candidates used in their campaign materials in the 2022 federal election campaign. According to Climate 200 convenor Simon Holmes à Court, members of the Liverpool Plains community approached the organisation, seeking to be involved in the state election campaign.

“They were very concerned about the impact of the coal seam gas industry on their communities, the land they love, and the land that feeds us,” Holmes à Court said.

“Climate 200 shares the community’s concerns about the unnecessary expansion of the fossil fuel industry.”

Candidates backed by the group have committed to insisting on reforms for the assessment future coal and gas projects. The eight independents, five of whom Climate 200 is taking donations for on their website, assert they will likely hold the balance of power. All live in the wealthiest parts of Sydney and are contesting seats like North Shore, Lane Cove, and Manly. They have pledged to stop the already approved Santos gas project at Narrabri, and the Hunter gas pipeline.

On 17 March, Climate 200 backed independent candidates Jacqui Scruby (contesting Pittwater) and Joeline Hackman (contesting Manly) held a media conference with Gunnedah cattle and grain farmer Doug Frend at the Northern Beaches Organic Food Markets in Warriewood in North Sydney. According to a media release from Scruby, the Liverpool Plains farmers in attendance hoped to “unite in support of independents fighting to stop the Narrabri Gas Project, and the controversial gas project in the independents’ own backyard, PEP-11, after Liberal Ministers ignored their requests to meet.”

“Farmers will campaign with Teals as they are listening, unlike local Nationals member Kevin Anderson,” Mr Frend said.

“By campaigning in Liberal-held northern beaches seats with the Teals we’re sending a strong message to the next government that farmers are angry and refuse to live in a gas-field.”

In the first video published by Climate 200 on March 9, Liverpool Plains farmer Scott McCalman says he is concerned about the Coalition’s support of “introducing coal seam gas onto the safest food producing area in Australia.” McCalman says the project “defies logic” and that it will have dire consequences, claiming that “it’s going to destroy my farm, and it’s going to destroy your future food security forever.”

Similar sentiments are expressed by other Liverpool Plains farmers, following similar scripts telling people to vote independent. The heavy scripting of the videos is most evident by references to “Liberal National party”, a term that is almost never used in common conversation in the broader New England region where there is a higher than usual level of political engagement, almost no Liberal presence, and generally a clear understanding that Liberals and Nationals are not the same party.

The video from fellow farmer Kate Gunn makes the motivation clear again: this campaign is not about winning Tamworth, the seat that includes the Liverpool Plains, it’s about using Liverpool Plains farmers to win city votes.

Liverpool Plains farmers recently sent letters to key NSW Government Ministers seeking a meeting to discuss the Narrabri Gas project, but claim the letter was ignored. In the letter, the farmers wrote that “Coal seam gas and associated pipelines represent a major risk to our farms, our businesses, our families and our climates… We feel it’s crucial that you understand that if you proceed you will put the long-term future of our food bowl at risk, and as a result threaten the outstanding economic contribution that our agricultural businesses make to NSW.”

The Liverpool Plains region was recently moved from the Upper Hunter electorate to the Tamworth electorate. The electorate covers the regional centres of Tamworth and Gunnedah as well as Manilla, Barraba, Werris Creek and Nundle. National Party member Kevin Anderson has held the Tamworth seat since 2011 and will re-contest the seat at this weekend’s election. Climate 200 does not endorse any of the candidates contesting the Tamworth seat. 

There are only two candidates in the seat of Tamworth that have stated on record they are against coal seam gas on the Liverpool Plains – in addition to the incumbent member, National Party’s Kevin Anderson – independent Mark Rodda and Greens candidate Ryan Brooke. However, Mr Anderson and Mr Rodda’s opposition is not anti-gas, but rather that the Liverpool Plains as an inappropriate place for gas mining. Labor candidate and Gunnedah Shire councillor Kate McGrath is neither for or against on the issue.

Brooke told The New England Times he doesn’t feel threatened by Climate 200’s interest in the region.  

“It’s awesome. The way I see it, it’s more crossbenchers serious about climate change, about seeing policy work progressing in that area.”

Narrabri – as locals well know – is north of the Liverpool Plains, and part of the enormous seat of Barwon held by former Shooters, Farmers and Fishers member, now Independent – but not ‘teal’ – Roy Butler. He has consistently opposed the Narrabri Gas Project and CSG generally over concerns about groundwater.

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