Coal Seam Gas Protestors Picket Energy Meeting After Farmer George Bender's Death

HuffPost Australia

Anti-coal seam gas group Lock The Gate has picketed the annual general meeting of Origin Energy in Sydney in the wake of the death of anti-CSG campaigner and farmer George Bender.

Around 50 people gathered outside The Westin Hotel in Martin Place on Wednesday morning, brandishing signs and banners opposing the practice of gas companies forcing farmers to allow CSG wells to be placed on their properties.

Lock The Gate claimed Origin had wanted Bender -- a farmer from Chinchilla, Queensland -- to allow the company to drill 18 wells on his farm, despite water bores drilled on his property allegedly drying up due to other CSG work on neighbouring properties.

After campaigning against CSG for a decade, Bender took his own life last week.

Lock The Gate protesters in Martin Place

In a statement released through Lock The Gate, Bender's family spoke of the toll CSG mining has had on their lives.

"Farming is a stressful occupation but what is not recognised is the additional and unrelenting burden that having to deal with the CSG industry has on the lives of those families affected," Bender's family said.

"From the time the companies took an interest in George’s land, it is something that the Benders have lived with daily. It is a constant source of worry, concern and something that you cannot forget."

Phil Laird, National Coordinator for Lock the Gate, told The Huffington Post Australia laws in Queensland heavily favoured gas companies and left farmers with little choice but to allow their lands to be drilled.

"George was involved with four different companies over the years who were trying to get access to his land. He denied them access because he looked at the environmental impacts and found them unacceptable," Laird said.

"[The companies] find the farmer or landholder, try and get access to the land and try to sign an access agreement. If the farmer rejects that the company can -- particularly in Queensland -- threaten to take them to the Land Court, then they have 28 days to come to an agreement or the company can get access."

"It's a gun to your head."

George Bender, who died last week after a decade fighting CSG drilling on his property

Laird said laws needed to change to better protect farmers and land, calling current rules "unacceptable".

"There should have the right to say no. It's your land, you have to deal with the impacts," he said.

A City of Sydney council ranger moved the group on from their initial position in Martin Place. The protesters then lined up outside the entrance to the hotel on the opposite side of the building, before then attracting the attention of police. A man with a guitar sang protest songs as the group -- banners and placards in hand -- lined the front of the hotel, aiming to speak to those attending the Origin meeting.

Lock The Gate also launched an eight-point document targeting the Queensland government, saying farmers and landholders needed better protections against gas companies. The proposal includes amending laws to allow landholders to deny gas companies access to their properties, placing an immediate halt on further plans to drill CSG wells in the Hopeland area of QLD, for the government to step in and broker buy-out deals for several families in the Chinchilla area, establish a CSG Family Crisis Panel and a dedicated counselling and support service for CSG affected communities, and to invest in more research around the health impacts of CSG.

Lock The Gate protesters outside the hotel

Senator Glenn Lazarus, who has previously spoken of being "gutted" at news of Bender's death, will on Thursday speak at another Lock The Gate protest. The group is planning to picket the Queensland premier's office in Brisbane and the Origin Energy office in Melbourne from 4.30pm.

""These mining companies are bullying, they're berating, they're threatening these people on a daily basis," Lazarus said on Macquarie Radio.

"[Companies have] given [farmers] no rights to say 'no' and they just don't care that these people are living in an absolute nightmare and they don't care because these governments are being given donations."

Origin's Chairman offered his condolences to Bender's family in his opening remarks at the AGM.

"On behalf of the company, I want to offer my sincerest condolences to the family of Mr Bender," he said.

"There is some suggestion that industry activity in the region may have in some way contributed to the circumstances surrounding his tragic death.

We are confident that Origin conducts its business with respect and in line with our commitments to farmers and the communities in which we operate."

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