Lingering environmental fears around coal seam gas (CSG) and a “tectonic” population shift in formerly conservative Northern Rivers could propel the Greens into power in the marginal seat of Richmond, centred on the iconic coastal city of Byron Bay.
Currently held by Labor by 1.6%, the dynamic seat is forcing the main candidates to be all things to all people, juggling an electorate which swings left in the south (Byron, Ballina) and right in the north (Tweed).
The Greens will have to do without stronghold Nimbin which is no longer in the seat due to a redistribution, but could add voters gained in some outer suburban mortgage-belts, narrowing the margin into a fierce three-cornered race between the ALP, the Nationals and the Greens.
Traditionally Conservative Rural Seat Now a ‘Potpourri’ of Cultures
Until Labor won the seat in 2004 the seat belonged to the National Party and was held by the Anthony political dynasty.
Larry Anthony held the seat until 2004. Before that it was the seat of his father, deputy prime minister Doug Anthony, and before that, stretching back to 1921, his grandfather.
Now president of the Nationals, Larry Anthony says this is the Greens having a major “crack” at their first seat outside a city.
“What of course was traditionally a rural [seat] is becoming semi-urban and you’ve got a potpourri of culture — from retirees to alternatives, green movement, sea changers, tree changers.”
“That’s where these tectonic shifts are different compared to coastal areas and kind of similar to city suburbs like Grayndler, Batman, where the fight is on for their lives between the Greens and the ALP.”
The Nationals’ chances may be further harmed by a series of blunders over the Coalition’s approach to CSG extraction in the area.
Anti-CSG Bentley Blockade a Turning Point
A watershed moment for the region was the Bentley blockade which protested against Metgasco drilling for CSG in 2014.
Michael McNamara from Lock the Tweed said that was when the Lock the Gate movement galvanised formerly conservative farmers to team up with environmentally conscious tree changers.
“Bentley was one of the most significant turning points in the social political history of Australia.”
“It was the Eureka stockade or Vinegar Hill without the guns.”
The last CSG mining licence was bought back last year, but a series of planning leaks showed CSG mining still on the Liberal—National agenda, either being spruiked to overseas investors or considered as future growth opportunities.
The Nationals candidate for the seat, fast food franchise owner Matthew Fraser, would not commit to any legislative changes to prevent any future CSG mining in the region.
“Labor is also for CSG and there’s parts of the Coalition that are for mining.”
“But as a representative of Richmond, we stand with the people and they are saying CSG is not appropriate here and that’s why the Nationals took back the licenses right across the NSW North Coast.
“If I’m elected, the region will remain CSG-free.”
Tyalgum Plans to be the First Town to go Off The Grid
The town of Tyalgum in the electorate’s west, population 300, is evidence of the fact renewable energy and climate change are burning issues in the region.
Among the bread, milk and eggs in the general store, they sell solar panels and are planning to rent electric bikes.
It’s part of their plan to be the first town in Australian to go off-grid using renewable energy.
The project is managed by Kacey Clifford.
“We don’t feel like there’s been any bold moves by any level of government to protect the environment.”
“It’s too late to point fingers at levels of government and it’s too late to wait for them to give us support. We have to go ahead, we have to move.”
Another Tyalgum resident, farmer and real estate agent Tom Carroll, is representative of the shift across the electorate.
He’s joining the renewable trend and getting solar panels on his roof.
And it’s changed the way he views his politics, too.
“I’ve always been a conservative voter, I’ve voted for the Liberals or the Nationals.”
“Unfortunately last year I didn’t, I voted Green.”
Alison Crook moved to the Byron hinterland from Melbourne.
She’s launched Australia’s first community-owned energy retailer there, Enova Energy.
“People in this region were sick of a lack of leadership and we really wanted something to happen.”
“We are not hearing that from our political parties, they are not understanding that renewable energy means job and lots of them, and it means the ability for regions to keep money circulating in their own areas.”