Speaking with the ABC on his last day as NSW Irrigators Council CEO, Mr Andrew Gregson says the coal seam gas industry should stay high on
the agenda of irrigators.
“One of the big challenges in the last 12 months was to get irrigators outside of the northern regions of NSW to recognise that coal seam gas
wasn’t a regional problem.
“The expansion of mining (CSG) will occur across NSW.
“There needs to be a recognition that that is the next challenge and they need to deal with it now.
“The one thing they need to achieve is recognition from the gas sector and major gas companies, from farmers and irrigators, that access agreements
need to be voluntary.
“People need to have the right to welcome the gas company onto their land or to choose not to.
“The only ones who don’t seem to recognise that is the NSW Government.”
Mr Gregson says the spread of coal seam gas operations across NSW is inevitable and anti-CSG lobbyists should rethink their opposition to the
industry, particularly at a time when both sides of politics are throwing their support behind the gas sector’s development.
“There are a number of activists that need to recognise that simply putting up a brick wall to gas is highly unlikely to be successful.
“The best outcome that those communities can expect is to develop a regulatory regime that ensures that there is safety in those communities,
that there is reasonable revenue flowing back to those communities, and that people have a choice over their own land.”
“In my opinion, I don’t think you’ve got a chance in hell of stopping the development of the gas and mining industry in Australia.
“You need to find a way that it’s adequately regulated so that everybody can continue to peacefully and profitably co-exist.”
Farmers need to find their own strength
It’s not only CSG that needs attention.
Mr Gregson also thinks that Australia’s agricultural industry has an ‘inflated sense of its own contribution to the Australian economy’.
But he does admit that agriculture’s influence in Canberra is often under-sold.
“It doesn’t matter which side of politics is in power, the National Farmers Federation and the commodity groups are very well
recognised and have significant influence.
“Farmers need to recognise their own strength.
“In Canberra I do see heavy criticism of agricultural representation and lobbying issues.
“Agriculture needs to embrace a positive message to major urban centres.
“If you were to ask the average urban dweller about agriculture, their main perception is still that of the whingeing farmer.
“That must change.”
A lesson in lobbying
After his six-and-a-half year role as a political lobbyist, Mr Gregson has some words of advice for other lobby groups.
“If you are simply an interest group, you will struggle to achieve cut-through in mainstream Australia.”
He says gaining widespread support is the key to successful lobbying because only then will the agenda will reach the capital city populations.
“I was hopeful we would get a good response from regional communities: I was stunned at the level of support that those communities gave to their irrigators.
“That’s what got us onto the television in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, and that’s what got us recognised in Canberra.”
A replacement for Mr Gregson will be announced next month.
The NSW Irrigators Council has received 50 applications for the role as CEO. Interviews will take place next week.