When Don Hubbard sat down to relax during spring this year after a day’s canola harvesting, he was shocked to see his property and that of his neighbours, Ben and Phoebe Clift, featured in a Santos coal seam gas (CSG) ad on the TV.
Problem is, Hubbard didn’t know the man posing as the owner of his property, nor that a film crew had invited themselves onto his property.
According to the ad, the man is Warwick Moppett, "landholder and farming consultant", and he has a message of hope for nervous CSG investors:
Voiceover: "Agriculture and coal seam gas do co-exist. Landholder and farming consultant Warwick Moppett is a prime example of that fact."
"Hi", says Moppett, "I’m one of 250 farmers and landholders in Queensland and New South Wales working with Santos."
"We talked, we agreed, and my farm is better off for it" (standing in the canola crop).
"We found water" (showing Goran Lake beyond Hubbard’s gate), "we fixed access tracks", "improved fences", "of course, some money in my pocket" (showing Moppett standing beside a line of cotton bales).
Hubbard has two properties at Spring Ridge, Cooininee and Tavetare, at the foot of Mt Coolanbilla. Hubbard immediately identified Mt Coolanbilla in the clip, and the canola crop as the Clifts’. Don Hubbard’s property is 45 kilometres from Gunnedah on the Liverpool Plains, one of the most productive agricultural zones in Australia.
Hubbard is a fourth generation farmer and grows canola, sorghum, durum wheat, cotton and sunflowers. He’s lived on the property since he was five years old and knows it like the back of his hand.
The scene following Moppett walking through the Clift’s canola crop is a one of an old gate leading to a lake. The gate leads into Hubbard’s property, Tavetare, and the lake is Lake Goran, which adjoins his farm. The film crew had to be standing on Hubbard’s property to get this shot from inside the gate:
The cotton bales Moppett rather proprietarily examines during the ad belong to another Gunnedah farming family, Trish and Ben Kelly. Like Don Hubbard, they had no idea their cotton crop was filmed for the ad.
NM Spoke with the Kelly family, who have no delusions about the damage done to farms by CSG mining. They’ve visited Chinchilla in Queensland and describe the land as "cesspits" and the "ponds" (as CSG miners call them) as "500 acre toxic dams".
Like Hubbard, the Kellys’ successful dryland farm operation also produces canola, wheat, barley, sorghum, sunflowers and chickpeas. Ben Kelly describes himself as a "custodian" of the land, which he’ll be passing on to his children. "When the gas runs out though, what then? The food bowl will have been destroyed", said Kelly.
NM also spoke with Rosemary Nankivell, a prominent local farmer and anti-CSG campaigner:
"Santos has been striving to get "cutting edge" farmers signed up and supportive of the industry, especially the Gunnedah farmers. So far they’ve just had a few farmers on poorer quality land. Santos is trying to tell everyone that CSG and farming can co-exist — and that our campaign is all about ‘misinformation‘. Well, this ad is the real misinformation."
With their farm under threat, Nankivell now campaigns for The Caroona Coal Action Group to help save their property and others from CSG mining. The Liverpool Plains’ famous black vertisol soil absorbs and holds moisture, allowing crops to be grown in droughts. The region attracts serious farmers like the Nankivell family who have grown cotton, canola, wheat, barley and sorghum in the Gunnedah area for generations.
"This is iconic country, like the Darling Downs but the climate is milder and the rainfall is better. How many areas are there in Australia where you can have a winter and summer crop?" she asks.
Moppett does have a farm of his own, Everleigh, but it’s not in the Gunnedah Basin, nor on the Liverpool Plains, but at Tooraweenah near Gilgandra, two hours drive away from where the ad was shot.
Retired farmer and anti-CSG campaigner, Milton Judd, provided photos of Moppett’s property to NM last week. All photos were taken from public roads.
So, why not film the ad on Warwick Moppett’s property?
"It is very hilly with very little flat country and definitely not cotton or, for that matter, canola country," Judd told NM. "The Santos ads could lead to investors believing that farmers in the Gunnedah Basin are in favour of CSG mining — which we know they’re not."
The region currently produces much of Australia’s wheat, corn, sunflower, canola, cotton and other grains, as well as cattle and sheep farming. Its farming community were understandably shocked when the O’Farrell government opened the floodgates to coal seam gas mining in September by renewing 22 CSG exploration licences including many of the most controversial titles in New South Wales.
Hubbard describes the O’Farrell government’s decision as "plain crazy":
"There is no way an operating broadacre farm can co-exist with CSG wells and there is no better dryland farming anywhere in the world than here on the Liverpool plains. If governments haven’t the wherewithal to protect that, I despair about the future."
Santos and the NSW government came under fire again last week with its gift of flights and accommodation to NSW Upper House Liberal MP, Scot Macdonald.
Greens’ mining spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham, has referred the gift to the Independent Commissions Against Corruption.
Just days after receiving the gift from Santos, Macdonald submitted his dissenting statement (p. 328) to the NSW Parliamentary Coal Seam Gas Inquiry Report, which concluded:
"It is difficult to reach any other conclusion than the coal seam gas industry should be developed as quickly as possible".
Unlike the Western Australian state government which has quarantined its iconic Margaret River food production region from mining, the current Coalition governments in the eastern states look set to continue staking their future on mining royalties.
The Federal Labor government has recognised the important role of food and fibre for the Asian region. Its white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, predicts a surge in food exports as an increasingly affluent Asia is expected to push demand 70 per cent higher by 2050 from 2007 levels.
In line with Australia’s position as one of the major food and fibre suppliers to the Asian market, a National Food Plan is being developed to foster "a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply". Public consultation for the federal government’s green paper was concluded on 30 September 2012.
Under the heading: "Maintaining Australia’s food security" are a couple of interesting objectives in relation to coal seam gas:
Manage the potential impact of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources, including supporting an independent expert scientific committee
Develop a national framework with state and territory governments on
coal seam gas that will address key community concerns on water
management, multiple land use, best practice and co-existence."
(Note: The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Act 2012 was passed on 10 October 2012.)
Community fears about food and water security is having an impact on Labor policy in New South Wales. Labor has undergone a 360-degree turn on coal seam gas mining and is now calling for a moratorium.
The Greens’ Jeremy Buckingham claims the National Food Plan fails to adequately address the major threats to agriculture of mining and gas development. On the weekend, at the Australian Greens National Conference, the Country Greens were formed and held their first meeting. The Greens plan to give country communities a real choice at all future state, territory and federal elections.
"We want to ensure another massive fossil fuel industry doesn’t get its toe in the door. We see the rural communities being underpinned through agriculture and vertically integrated through processing and markets for hundreds of years to come. Our agricultural industry shouldn’t be destroyed by the "rape, ruin and run" industry", said Buckingham.
Postscript: Over the weekend, the Kelly’s, owners of the cotton bales, received an apologetic phone call from Mark Rogers of Santos.
NM requested comment from the company that produced the ad, KWP! Advertising. A reply from KWP!’s spokesman Andrew Fotheringham is published below.
Thank you for your email. Sorry, that I have not gotten back to you sooner but Friday afternoon was the first time we received your correspondence.
The ads we produced for Santos were filmed in a variety of locations in north-west New South Wales including private land, public land, areas leased by Santos, road verges and road easements. Approval was obtained where appropriate and clear guidelines were in place not to enter private land.
The ad featuring Warwick Moppett is one of a series of ads that depicts Santos employees going about their daily business. In his role as a farming consultant for Santos, Warwick visits farms and farmers in a wide range of locations across northwest NSW. The ad shows him driving between properties and stopping at the side of the road to talk to camera. At no time does the ad state or imply that the properties seen in the background are Warwick’s.
The location near Lake Goran was chosen because it features a range of landscapes and land uses in close proximity, and it is broadly representative of the areas in which Santos proposes to develop its Coal Seam gas business.
We film Warwick standing on the fringes of a canola crop and in front of a cotton field including amongst cotton bales on the side of the road.
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