"OUR concern is that as a community, we have no say."
Gloucester councillor Aled Hoggett yesterday summed up the desperation of his community as it continues to be the political football kicked around by those in the upper two tiers of government.
The announcement overnight that the NSW government had caved in to community and political pressure over coal seam gas mining introducing a ban on all activity within two kilometres of residential areas and industry clusters such as horse breeders and wine producers did little to satisfy Cr Hoggett and his fellow councillors, as Gloucester continues its fight against encirclement by coal and gas mining activities.
Cr Hoggett and five of his fellow six councillors will today have their 'open letter' to State and federal politicians tabled at their regular council meeting in Gloucester.
The letter makes a public plea on behalf of the community that further development of coal seam gas and coal mining in the Gloucester Valley be suspended until their cumulative impacts can be assessed.
It publicly expresses the councillors' disappointment with federal environment minister Tony Burke's conditional approval just last week for AGL's 112 well Gloucester coal seam gas project, and the unsatisfactory planning process that lead to it.
"The political brinkmanship that has led to this decision reinforces our perception that the interests of our community are being completely disregarded in a party political spat," it says.
"Local communities have few formal powers over these matters," the councillors point out. As a result, minister Burke's conditional approval to AGL exposes the Gloucester Valley to serious economic, social and environmental risks.
"We cannot sit idle while remote and faceless people pull the levers of power, and politicians condemn us to a future of jeopardy."
Mayor John Rosenbaum, deputy mayor Frank Hooke, and councillors James Hooke, Katheryn Smith and Tony Teersteeg added their signatures to the open letter, along with Cr Hoggett. Only one councillor, Jim Henderson, was not a signatory.
Copies have gone to federal minister Burke, State premier Barry O'Farrell, relevant ministers in several portfolios, and local State members George Souris and Stephen Bromhead.
Just days after the councillors penned their letter and began sending copies off, Barry O'Farrell's partial halt on coal seam gas activities brought little consolation for Gloucester people.
The 2km perimeter ban will apply to any coal seam gas proposal which has yet to be approved under the Environmental Protection and Assessment Act or the Petroleum (Onshore) Act, and does not apply to prime agricultural land other than 'industry clusters' such as horse studs and wineries.
It does however, in effect, end AGL's plans to drill for coal seam gas beneath thousands of homes in south-western Sydney. That project had been strongly opposed by the State MP for Campbelltown, Bryan Doyle, and the federal Liberal MP for Macarthur, Russell Matheson, supported by a surge in community anger which forced AGL's backdown, even before Premier O'Farrell's announcement on Monday night.
Unfortunately for the Gloucester community, its political voice has not been so strong.
The councillors' letter alleges that the State government while in opposition promised to protect land and water "but has instituted policy that does no such thing".
"The State government has advice from its own Department of Health on the potential health impacts of coal seam gas, but has not responded to these concerns," it says.
"The federal government promised bioregional assessments and sober consideration of major projects by an independent expert scientific committee. Its conditional approval (for AGL's Gloucester project) has pre-empted the consideration of cumulative impacts by both processes.
"It appears that both levels of government are more interested in facilitating mining projects than protecting the underlying capacity of our country for sustainable primary production or the health of communities in areas impacted by mining."
The Gloucester community, then, has every right to feel it is the poor country cousin that few politicians apart from federal Lyne independent Rob Oakeshott know or have concerns about.
Last week, after federal minister Burke gave conditional approval to AGL's 112 well Gloucester project, State National Party member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead attempted to justify his government's 'protection measures' for coal seam gas mining operations, both as pre-election promises and since.
"We are the ones to have fought since the election and introduced a new tougher regime. Our strategic land use policy is the toughest regime in the world," he told the Times.
"The National Party are the ones out there fighting for NSW and the regional areas.
"Without the Nationals we would be back to the pre-election position of NSW being sold off without conditions, without accountability, without protocol. We are the ones cleaning up the mess left to us by the Labor-Greens alliance.
"Just look at Gloucester... coal mining was approved by the prior government, coal seam gas production wells were sold in the three weeks before the election."
Cr Hoggett told the Times yesterday the unfortunate part about the whole political situation is that local government has no power whatsoever, and no say in mining issues which are declared state-significant developments.
"We are really struggling. We as a community face all the environmental and the financial risks, and many social risks from mining... and we get no return," he said.
"The companies will say we get jobs from the development, but those jobs come at the cost of jobs from other sectors.
"So our concern is that we have no power and no say. The only thing we can hope to do is influence the process.
"As a council we are starting to develop a social licence, which clearly articulates what we as a community expect as they (mining activities) develop."
He said even the community consultation process introduced as a result of developing mining activities around Gloucester has "no decision-making powers and no influence on mining"
"It's really just a vehicle to try and promote communications between the companies and the community, and leaves people feeling really frustrated.
"Our local community is in fact feeling consultation fatigued."