BATTLING ON: Shay Dougall of Chinchilla has been working tirelessly to gather submissions for the Australian branch of an international tribunal into human rights impacts of the unconventional gas industry.
BATTLING ON: Shay Dougall of Chinchilla has been working tirelessly to gather submissions for the Australian branch of an international tribunal into human rights impacts of the unconventional gas industry. Brooke Duncan

Human rights tribunal to hear Chinchilla's CSG experience

WHEN most Australians think of human rights, they consider issues occurring in far-off countries.

Most of us don't consider there could be human rights issues happening - quite literally - in our own backyard.

But for Western Downs resident Shay Dougall, it's a concern she's been dealing with for years.

Now she's teamed up with people from across Australia and beyond to highlight potential human rights issues associated with the unconventional gas industry, which includes coal seam gas.

Mrs Dougall has been working tirelessly to gather submissions for the Australian branch of an international tribunal into the human rights impacts of the unconventional gas industry.

The Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change, run by a non-government organisation based in Rome, will examine the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional gas on people and the environment.

For Mrs Dougall, the fight to protect her rights as a landholder began years ago when gas companies began their activities in the Hopelands area.

Ever since, she's been outspoken in her efforts to uphold landholder rights as she's seen fellow residents struggle with the impacts of CSG activity on their properties.

"Surely, we must have some rights as property owners and as a community to prevent what we see as pollution and damage to the immediate environment but also climate change, because the industry is heavily intense on emissions," MrsDougall said.

As part of the tribunal, 50submissions have been uploaded detailing the impacts of the CSG industry on the lives of people across Australians and their environments.

Two of those Australians are locals Karen Auty and Graham Slaughter.

For Uniting Church minister Graham Slaughter, hearing "the same story" from numerous landholders convinced him there were possible human rights issues occurring in regional Queensland as a result of the gas industry.

"I think 'surely this can't be happening in this day and age in this country' but there are people who are being impacted in many ways by the industry," he said.

"There's a big push from government for co-existence and co-operation but... landholders see it very much as though someone from outside is setting up residence in their home and bringing their mates with them, and if this happened in the city it wouldn't be tolerated.

"I say this is not simply a matter of economics, it's a matter of the heart."

Resident Karen Auty said after 17 state and national inquiries into the issue, many of the people affected by the industry felt disheartened and "submissioned out".

"Submission fatigue is actually a syndrome that many people suffer, most of them farmers," she said.

"(They take) a lot of care and trouble and time to do it and then nothing ever changes, nothing happens, we don't see any action. So that has been a big frustration all along.

"So where do we go? We go international, that's all we can do.

"We can't just bring it up 17 times at inquiries and stop speaking about it, that would suggest that something positive has happened and nothing positive has happened.

"We have to continue to speak up, so the international forums are good."

In response to the upcoming tribunal, industry group the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said the Queensland natural gas industry operated under and adhered to Australian and state laws and enjoyed a close working relationship with the vast majority of local stakeholders.

"Eight scientific inquiries in Australia have and continue to find that the onshore natural gas industry, including hydraulic fracturing, is a perfectly safe practice for gas extraction," a representative said.

"Only this week we have seen the Northern Territory Government lift its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

"A small but vocal number of foreign-funded activist groups would have people believe that they are right and the scientists including the CSIRO are wrong."

The four-day international tribunal will be held from May 14-18 and will be streamed live with a link available on the tribunal website.

Australian submissions to the tribunal can be found at www.peoplestribunal

ongas.org and include testimony from experts and specialists, including Australian Lawyers for Human Rights national president Benedict Coyne, the Doctors for the Environment of Australia group, non-government organisation National Toxins Network senior advisor DrMariann Lloyd-Smith and numerous other groups and individuals.

In all, it's been a long road for Mrs Dougall and she hopes the tribunal will bring a sense of closure to an issue that has been a big part of her life for years.

"I'm hoping that a really resounding response from PPT causes a very serious pause, reconsideration of this industry and certainly something built-in to support the people in their rights and remedies for what already happened to them."