Gasfield commission needs to put citizens before profits
MICHAEL has a bleeding nose and rashes all over his body.
So do Michael's wife and his children. One of his children has scratched the rash on his skin so severely he now is suffering from a more general skin infection.
A number of Michael's neighbours have had similar complaints over the past twelve months.
On Sunday more than four people presented to their local hospital with burning itchy eyes and breathing difficulties.
The area where these complaints are coming from was once known as the Tara Blocks - more politely the Golden Downs Estate, but now people who call this home just call it the Tara gasfields.
For some time people in the area have been complaining of headaches, breathing difficulties, bleeding ears and even pets dragging their hind legs.
Nobody knows the cause, but the residents believe it has a lot to do with the nearby coal seam gas industry.
They keep speaking out - but don't feel like anybody is listening.
They wonder if they and their lifestyle are considered worthy of protection.
One of the residents, Debbi, has set up the Gasfield Community Support group.
She listens to local residents and documents health complaints as they are brought to her.
The government has acted - to a point. They have instructed the Department of Health to investigate and sent a doctor to the local hospital. But still the symptoms persist.
The Gasfield Community Support Group has co-ordinated a few meetings with the gas companies, the Gasfield Commission, local non-government organisations and church representatives.
The meetings are a great study in a massive imbalance in power.
Everybody around the table, public servants, gas company representatives, health professionals, non-government representatives (including myself) can justify drawing a healthy wage for their participation. The only people who can't are those who live on the estate.
Those whose properties are now devalued with little prospect of a sale. By any measure the residents on the estate are not well off. Many are on disability pensions and have made a life eking out an existence on rural blocks with no connected water or power. But they are certainly not victims. They chose this life and this place.
They didn't choose to live in a gasfield. They just happen to believe that everybody has the right to a good night's sleep.
Their situation reminds me of the recent ABC television drama "Devil's Dust" - the story of Bernie Banton and the struggle for the victims of asbestos.
Part of the story depicts the small Aboriginal community of Baryulgil in northern New South Wales.
Community members including prominent fighter Tony Mundine worked in the nearby asbestos mine and their children played in the tailings. Nobody was told the dust was lethal.
When the community members starting getting sick - they were told it was due to their general lifestyle - that Aboriginal people didn't live too long anyway.
Some of the Tara folk have been smeared with negative questions over their level of hygiene and where they source their drinking water.
Now I'm not arguing that CSG is as lethal as asbestos - but the thing to watch with these things is the power imbalance. When you have huge and well-resourced companies coming into contact with vulnerable people the state owes a duty to those with little voice. What sets us apart as a civilised society should be the way that we protect our citizens. Things need to be transparent so that we can all have confidence that the right thing is being done.
For this reason it is curious that members of the Gasfield Commission in Queensland have a list of pecuniary interests - but the list is a secret one.
I would have thought in the light of the recent corruption scandal in New South Wales involving a resource company and the former servants of that state a bit of transparency would be a good idea.
Is the Gasfield Commission there to enable or there to protect? And if so who is being protected?
Let's set aside the argument over the rights and wrongs of CSG and simply address the question of whether it is right and proper that this small group of people and their lifestyle be sacrificed for the company and the State of Queensland.