Hot air just that

LAST week ILN sister site EnergyNewsPremium pondered whether the federal election would be a de facto referendum on CSG extraction – but the electorate has answered that pondering with a resounding “no”.
Hot air just that Hot air just that Hot air just that Hot air just that Hot air just that

 

James McGrath

Undoubtedly the election of Tony Abbott was about both the economy and question of trust.

With the mining boom off the boil (or specifically the construction phase of the mining boom), Australians were more than likely looking to a Coalition government to guide it through rocky times.

In August the Australian National University asked 1200 potential voters to rank the issues. It found “economy/jobs” was the number one issue, while “immigration” was number two and “environment/global warming” was number three.

Given the Coalition was seen as stronger on both the top two issues during the election, the result is hardly a surprise.

However, according to ABC’s “Vote Compass”, 61% of more than 900,000 respondents said they wanted to see more action on climate change.

But with Abbott aiming to wind back climate legislation and pull funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, it appears climate is not high on the list of priorities for the ordinary voter.

Similarly with the issue of CSG, 55% of respondents said CSG restrictions should not be eased, with just 23% supporting the easing of restrictions.

The concern over CSG was greatest in New South Wales, with 61% against the easing of restrictions while 22.3% said CSG should be given a better go in the state.

Across the border in Queensland, 58.3% of respondents said they were against the easing of restrictions on CSG activity, while 25.12% said they were for giving the industry a better go.

With numbers like that, you would expect a greater vote for parties that oppose CSG, namely the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party, while Clive Palmer said a pause should be put on CSG but his Palmer United Party did not run on an explicit anti-CSG platform.

As with a number of issues, the reality doesn’t match up to the bluster.

The Lock the Gate Alliance together with the Hunter and Central Rivers Alliance put up 19 seats it thought would be vital to getting more anti-CSG voices into federal Parliament.

Below is a table of the 19 electorates the LTGA outlined as key seats in the CSG stoush.

Electorate

Predicted winner

Swing to/from Labor

Swing to/from LNP

Swing to/from Greens

Blair, Qld

Labor

0.0

-4.1

-6.9

Capricornia, Qld

Labor ahead

-7.9

-1.6

N/A

Corangamite, Vic

Liberal

-7.2

+3.3

+0.3

Dobell, NSW

Liberal ahead

-10.6

+0.98

-3.9

Flynn, Qld

Liberal

-4.6

-2.3

N/A

Hunter, NSW

Labor

-9.6

+4.1 (Nationals)

-3.3

Lyne, NSW

Nationals

+7.8

+19.2

+1.6

Maranoa, Qld

Liberal

-2.7

-9.8

-2.1

Newcastle, NSW

Labor

-3.6

+2.9

-3.4

New England, NSW**

Nationals

+3.6

+28.9 (Nationals)

+0.7

Parkes, NSW

Nationals

+0.2

+4.1 (Nationals)

-0.6

Paterson, NSW

Liberal

-8.3

+2.5

+0.5

Petrie, Qld

Liberal ahead

-3.1

+0.5

-4.7

Robertson, NSW

Liberal

-4.2

-0.6

-3.7

Shortland, NSW

Labor

-5.1

+4.9

-4.4

Page, NSW*

Nationals

-6.9

+4.4 (Nationals)

-2.3

Rankin, Qld

Labor

-1.8

-1.8

-6.1

Richmond

Labor

-5.5

+16.5 (Nationals)

+1.4

Swings on first preference, data taken on 09/09/2013.

* ALP candidate Janelle Saffin ran on anti-CSG platform, as did the Nationals candidate.

** Nationals member Barnaby Joyce ran on an anti-CSG platform in New England.

Given that Labor, Liberal and Nationals parties have not explicitly said they are against CSG (although they’ve hinted at it at times), the only party left that explicitly ran on an anti-CSG platform is the Greens party.

Of the 18 seats in which the Greens ran a candidate, 13 recorded swings against as part of a broader back away from the Greens party on the part of the nation.

Surely it stands to reason that if CSG was a concern for the voters of those electorates and the Greens were the only ones who had an explicit anti-CSG message, then the voters would choose the Greens.

However, their vote actually going backwards would seemingly be an indication that the CSG industry has support in those electorates.

As detailed later, it more than likely indicates ambivalence than anything else.

Katter’s Australian Party and Palmer United Party

One of the standout features of the election was the performance of the Palmer United Party, especially in Queensland.

In fact, Palmer himself has a chance of slipping into the House of Representatives via the seat of Fairfax in Queensland.

Interestingly, the PUP does not have an explicit anti-CSG policy, although Palmer has made some disparaging remarks about CSG.

Speaking after NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane tabled her initial report on CSG in the state, Palmer said a pause should be placed on the practice.

“Let’s take a breather on the coal seam gas industry,” Palmer said.

“This report raises serious questions about human health, the effects on the environment and water in particular, landholders’ legal rights and industry regulation and compliance.”

Palmer said all governments and companies involved in CSG should put personal interests on hold to support a thorough investigation into concerns raised around the industry.

“The wellbeing of communities where these projects are taking place is of paramount importance and they have a right to know about potential negative impacts.”

Whether his stance has anything to do with CSG and coal licences overlapping is simply not known.

On the other hand Bob Katter has been much more strident on CSG, suggesting that any hole drilled through an aquifer be subject to the “water trigger” laws passed earlier this year.

While his party has recorded a minor gain in the primary vote at this stage, Katter faced a battle to retain his seat with a 17.1% swing recorded against him, while a 14.2% swing has been recorded towards the Liberal candidate.

Despite the massive swing against him, Katter should get through on preferences.

Do the numbers actually matter?

However, when all is said and done are the numbers a referendum on CSG and gas development more broadly?

All indications point to no.

While the anti-CSG crowd certainly cannot claim that the election result was a vindication of its stance, nor can pro-CSG groups such as the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association claim that the vote in favour of CSG development.

APPEA commissioned pollsters Crosby Textor to commission some exit polling in 20 marginal seats, with four of the seats lining up with those put forward by the LTGA.

The four seats that correlated were Corangamite, Flynn, Page, and Richmond.

The others, however, were not near any actual or planned gas development.

The seats of Bonner, Boothby, Brand, Brisbane, Deakin, Forde, Gilmore, Greenway, Hasluck, Herbert, Hindmarsh, La Trobe, Moreton, Petrie, Reid and Werriwa can hardly be described as hotbeds of gas industry activity, with the possible exception of the western Sydney seats.

So asking them whether or not the gas industry is an issue is likely to produce a respondent who is completely ambivalent towards the gas industry, as a Western Australian is mostly ambivalent towards State of Origin contests.

What the Crosby Textor polling shows is that CSG development as an issue has not really broken out of the places where it’s actually taking place (except for inner-city Sydney).

However, the Greens result in key electorates such as Page, Groom, Richmond, Maranoa and Gippsland where anti-CSG campaigners thought they could had an impact indicates that voters have not taken the bait.

While it could be said the Greens result was a rejection of Green policies, there is no clear indication that the voters in those seats are pro-CSG development.

If it were a referendum question, there would be a clearer answer.

However, as it stands, there is simply not enough evidence to suggest that either pro-CSG groups or anti-CSG groups enjoy a huge amount of support or derision in the context of myriad other issues considered at general elections.

Still, the broader point made by APPEA rings true.

The election of Tony Abbott and the LNP points to a change in attitude in the broader electorate, favouring economic development and jobs and the reduction in hurdles faced by business in Australia.

Meanwhile, the slicing and dicing of numbers will go on with both sides seeking data to back up their arguments of ideas.

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