CAROONA district farmer and activist against coal exploration on the Liver-pool Plains, Tim Duddy, will stand as an Independent for the seat of Upper Hunter in the March State election.
He will have a formidable task to beat the sitting member, The Nationals’ George Souris, who won with 64.7 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in the 2007 election.
Polls are showing the Coalition will romp in against the bedraggled Labor Government, which has been wracked by scandals and the mass exodus of sitting members who have decided not to contest the election.
But Mr Duddy – who has achieved a kind of folk hero status with his resistance as a member of the Caroona Coal Action Group against coal exploration in the Caroona district by BHP-Billiton – says, “I am not playing to lose.”
With the help of neighbours, Mr Duddy maintained until early 2010 a 20-month blockade against exploration by the company of his property, “Rossmar Park”.
The group fears coal exploration and mining could disrupt groundwater aquifers on which many farmers depend.
In March last year, with financial support from the National Farmers Federation fighting fund, they won a Supreme Court case which ruled mining companies when negotiating property access agreements must consult with all parties with an interest in the land, including banks which held a mortgage over the property, as well as the land owner.
The NSW Government responded by amending the legislation to make it easier for mining companies to get access to properties.
The NSW Farmers Association and The Nationals negotiated amendments to the new legislation that watered down some provisions.
But Mr Duddy claims The Nationals “flushed down the toilet” the fighting fund money by reneging on an agreement to exclude the Caroona district from the impacts of the new legislation.
He said things farmers had wanted in the legislation had been “shafted” when the NSW Minerals Council opposed them.
“Having sat in rooms for five years with the people that are setting the policies, it became apparent that no-one in State Parliament understands land-use conflicts, or indeed rural issues at all.
“Very few people are prepared to stand up for anything to do with regional Australia.”
But Mr Duddy said he was not anti-mining and had a broad agenda.
In his campaign launch in Singleton on Monday, he said he wanted the Hunter to be “a diverse valley where existing productive local industries, including wineries, tourism, Thoroughbred breeding and agriculture are able to work beside, not get pushed out by mining”.
“At the moment there is a lack of balance and the unfettered expansion of the mining and gas industry is threatening long-term sustainable industries that have previously thrived across the valley,” he said.
He called for a moratorium on new coal and coal seam gas exploration and mining until a sustainable land use strategy had been developed for the Upper Hunter, Gloucester and Gunnedah basins.
He also wants an investigation into the cumulative social, environmental and economic impacts of coal mining and coal seam gas, and an independent study of the health impacts of coal mining on Upper Hunter residents.
Mr Duddy also called for a rural infrastructure fund using mining royalties, fast-track construction of the Muswellbrook by-pass and commitment to bringing new health professionals into the region to reduce waiting times.
He also wants the Government to ensure communities, agriculture and industry have ready access to “a viable clean water supply”.
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