MP’s swing on coal seam gas draws heat

The Greens have vowed to hold the Nationals to account in Gippsland South, accusing successful by-election candidate Danny O’Brien of backing down from a campaign commitment to stand strong on coal seam gas issues.

A day after taking the Gippsland South electorate with 45 per cent of the primary vote, and a whopping 75.88 per cent on two-party preferred basis, Mr O’Brien downplayed commentary made during the campaign the by-election was a ‘referendum’ on CSG.

“In the end one in two people in Gippsland voted for us… it just shows that country people do want a country-based party to look after their interests,” Mr O’Brien was quoted by Australian Associated Press.

During the campaign the Nationals declared support for an extended moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, and increased landholder rights to veto mining operations.

A policy shift led to the Greens directing preferences to the conservative party for the second time in Australian political history.

Greens candidate Andrea Millsom, who attracted 15.63 per cent of the primary vote, which increased to 24.12 per cent after distribution of preferences, described Mr O’Brien’s “back down” as “complete baloney”.

“Gippsland South voters rewarded him because he had a slightly better position than the Liberals and thought he would stand up on the issue, but instead he is walking away from it on day one ,” Ms Millsom said.

“He’s talking through his hat, and the electorate expected better of him on his first day in office and people will be really disappointed about those comments.”

Speaking to The Express on Tuesday Mr O’Brien stuck by his comments.

“I’ve said several times since (the by-election) that while people were concerned about CSG, it was not the number one issue,” Mr O’Brien said.

“I think the result of the Greens and the independents who wanted to ban CSG full stop back ups my position it wasn’t a big vote changer.

“I think it’s fraught with danger to assert that people voted one way or the other on one particular issue, but clearly given a conservative choice, voters maintained a preference for a country based party.”

Mr O’Brien is due to be sworn into the position today.

“Our changed position (on CSG) was an evolution of our policy. We always said we would do nothing that would harm land or water resources. We will maintain a cautious and conservative approach to this industry,” he said.