Big wet didn't stop a big week for CWA in Bega

Extinguish 'zombie' $2 mining licences, votes CWA

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Federal Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain with Bega CWA delegates Annette Kennewell, Nelleke Gorton, Alison Jenkins, Helen Galton, Vicki Hummel, Lynn Lawson and Robyn Wright keeping the faithful fed at the CWA NSW annual conference in Bega. Photo by Ellouise Bailey.

Federal Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain with Bega CWA delegates Annette Kennewell, Nelleke Gorton, Alison Jenkins, Helen Galton, Vicki Hummel, Lynn Lawson and Robyn Wright keeping the faithful fed at the CWA NSW annual conference in Bega. Photo by Ellouise Bailey.

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The CWA wrapped up a successful annual conference in Bega this week with all eyes now focussed on a massive centenary conference at Royal Randwick racecourse in Sydney next year.

Although scaled back because of COVID restrictions, more than 250 delegates filled Bega - bringing a morale boost for the bushfire-hit Far South Coast area and also to members who could not hold a conference last year because of the pandemic.

Now the CWA is preparing for its big centenary next year to start in the first week of May at Randwick racecourse - with promises of a no-holds-barred celebration of 100 years of the NSW CWA.

The official opening of the Bega conference was held on Monday this week at the Bega Showground with everything running smoothly despite a heavy downpour on most days of the conference. Bega recorded nearly 200mm of rain for the week.

CWA members from all over the state gathered with special guests and dignitaries for the annual meeting- next year it will go back to the full quota per branch.

The conference passed a number of motions including one that called on governments to stop allowing prime ag land being used for renewable energy projects.

The conference also called on the NSW Government to extinguish 'zombie' Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELS) covering valuable agricultural land.

The CWA said in a release that "it comes as the NSW Upper House prepares to consider legislation introduced by Independent NSW MLC Justin Field to extinguish 'zombie' or expired PELs, in response to concerns of a return to widespread Coal Seam Gas exploration in the NSW North West region".

CWA of NSW President Stephanie Stanhope said the association "recognised the importance of mining and gas projects to the state's economy and energy needs, but they needed to proceed in locations that didn't unduly impact NSW communities and other industries, like agriculture".

"In the case of the 11 PELs in question, we believe they aren't in appropriate areas and now these licences have expired, there's no reason why they shouldn't be extinguished," Mrs Stanhope said.

"Communities in these affected areas have lived with the uncertainty of what these PELs will mean for their futures for too long, and it's time for confidence to be restored for the people who call these regions home and who rely on the land for their livelihoods.

"It's also time to secure the future of the valuable agricultural land covered by these expired PELs, as well as the irreplaceable water and environmental resources in these areas. They're too valuable to be compromised by poor planning and questionable decision-making."

She said as well as the extinguishment of the expired PELs, there also needed to be a whole new process for considering and approving future mining exploration licences.

"Just this week, members at our annual state conference endorsed a motion calling for the cessation of licences for '$2 companies' that don't have the financial capacity to undertake mineral exploration. This current process is failing communities and landholders, with a lack of regulatory oversight and the potential to inflict enormous emotional and financial stress on landholders," she said.

"It's just another example of the urgent need to overhaul the entire process and replace it with one in which rural and regional communities can have trust and confidence. We'd like to see a bi-partisan approach to this review process as well, ensuring the protection of our agriculture industry now and into the future.

"We only get one chance at this, because once our fragile and precious farming land, water resources and significant environmental assets are damaged, or even destroyed, there's no coming back."

Also read: Boot solar farms from prime agricultural land, says CWA

Meantime, at the opening on Monday, Piper Graham Durant-Law led special guests into the hall followed by a Welcome to Country by Aunty Colleen Dixon.

The National and CWA Anthems brought the hall to life before state president Stephanie Stanhope welcomed attendees to the conference.

Mayor for the BVSC Russell Fitzpatrick made special mention of the 400 or so delegates who had travelled from all over NSW to attend, as well as the Valley branches for their organisation efforts.

"I love the motto of the conference, Strength in Adversity, we couldn't have asked for more adversity than we've had in the last couple of years," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

"We've had nine natural disasters in the Valley the last three years, everything from drought... three lots of bushfires... six lots of flooding, so Strength in Adversity is something that really resonates."

Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley was unable to attend, but sent a video message of support.

She said Strength in Adversity had been a consistent part of the 99-year history of the CWA and paralleled post-war times to current challenges such as drought, bushfires, flood and the pandemic.

"You've done so much to support your members and to help your communities," she said.

Bronwyn Taylor, Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, enthusiastically spoke to the conference and thanked the CWA to be able to begin her week in "beautiful Merimbula".

"What you do is endless, your sacrifice, your wisdom, your ability to bring people together in one of the most challenging years that we've all faced."

NSW Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor addressses the conference opening.

NSW Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor addressses the conference opening.

She called on women to continue being leaders and stepping into local government positions with bravery in face of current investigations into sexual assault and sexism in parliament.

"We fear you in government... because we know that almost all of the time you are right.

"You're aligned to your communities... and you represent them so well, don't ever lose that because therein lies your power and your strength."

Ms Taylor also spoke of thriving rural communities with rural property booms post-pandemic and acknowledged the challenges facing communities in terms of housing.

After the official proceedings, delegates poured on to the showgrounds to have a cuppa and some morning tea.

Part of this story first appeared in the Bega District News

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