Nationals harvesting anti-gas vote

THE National Party could reap the benefit of wanting to give farmers the right to veto prospecting for unconventional gas.

Through their how-to-vote card for early voters, the Greens have directed voters to preference the Nationals ahead of the Liberals for the Gippsland South by-election.

The Nationals and Liberals have put the Greens last.

To keep the parties guessing, the Greens have submitted two how-to-vote cards with the Victorian Electoral Commission, one with the Nationals ahead of their coalition partner, the other with the Liberals ahead. The Greens will decide on by-election day, March 14, which one they will use.

A report in The Australian this week quotes former Liberal federal minister Peter Reith saying the Nationals were “in bed with the Greens” in opposing coal seam gas.

The Nationals last week announced a policy to give landholders the right to veto coal seam gas operations on their property and provide stronger safeguards should the onshore gas industry ever develop in Victoria.

The announcement created a point of difference between the Nationals and Liberals, who have traditionally worked as a coalition.

While both parties support the continuation of a moratorium of onshore gas exploration and extraction in Victoria, the Nationals have stepped away from backing the industry.

Mr Reith, who recommended in a report for the previous Liberal-National state government to allow unconventional gas extraction in Victoria, said the Nationals were playing populist politics at the expense of jobs and investment.

Nationals leader Peter Walsh said Mr Reith’s comments showed him as a city-centric Liberal.

How-to-vote cards from Seaspray and Mirboo North anti-CSG groups have put Mr O’Brien ahead of Mr Rossetti.

CSG has been an issue for farming communities since concerns arose over the effects on health, water supplies and farmland in New South Wales and Queensland.

Nationals candidate Danny O’Brien described the announcement as “an evolution of our policy”.

“We pushed strongly and delivered the moratorium when in government,” he said. “If the preferences come our way that’s great, but we’re fighting tooth and nail for every first preference vote.”

Greens candidate Andrea Millsom said the Nationals’ position didn’t go far enough on the issue.

“Only a permanent ban will give certainty under any circumstances.”