Son of pokies king funds anti-gas fight

The Lock the Gate alliance between farmer and green groups opposing coal seam gas development was part-funded by Kjerulf Ainsworth, the son of billionaire pokies king Len.

Over the past two years Mr Ainsworth, who owns 15 petrol stations across Queensland and northern NSW, has paid about $200,000 to fund legal, travel and other expenses for Lock the Gate president Drew Hutton, to screen the US documentary Gasland in more than 80 country towns and to fund anti-gas activist Dayne Pratzky, who runs the Gasileaks website and stars in a forthcoming documentary.

In a newly published ebook, What the Frack, Mr Ainsworth reveals he was an original member of the tight group that conceived of Lock the Gate in a Drummoyne pub in December 2010, and although he had no formal position with the group he was for a time working 16-hour days behind the scenes, sending his ''the Gas'' emails from his Noosa holiday home.

''I only sent it on to 10-15 people, but they were my distributors. I had a close group of key decision-makers and influencers. I told them, 'You can forward my email on to whoever you want, just take my name off it'.''

Lock the Gate is a loose national umbrella group which has staged demonstrations and rallies across the country, urging farmers to refuse to give coal seam gas companies access to their properties.

It also opposes expanded coalmining and helped develop a Greenpeace campaign document, ''Stopping the Australian coal boom'', which was branded ''highly irresponsible'' by the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

Mr Pratzky has risked trespass charges to secretly access gas field sites, using high-tech infra-red goggles and camera equipment paid for by Mr Ainsworth, to shoot methane bubbling from gas wells and rivers, airborne emissions and sample fracking fluids.

The documentary, Frackman, will be distributed next year.

Mr Pratzky, from the rural-residential estates near Tara in Queensland, in the middle of a QGC coal seam gas field, recalls first meeting Mr Ainsworth and asking: ''Mate, I'm wanting to know what you're getting out of this?'' He said: ''I wanted service stations to get in on this gas boom, but there's money and there's crime, and this is a crime. I don't want to make money off it. I want to help you.''

Mr Ainsworth, who also paid for Mr Pratzky's defence when he was charged with public nuisance, said both his parents had turned up to Lock the Gate fund-raisers and his mother - with whom he co-owns a property near Bowral, an area threatened by coal seam gas development - had donated $20,000. Otherwise his activities were conducted independently of the family. ''We're still worth a couple of billion dollars and we're probably untouchable, unless we do something wrong,'' Mr Ainsworth said.

''If we do something wrong, we're fair game. I know if I put my foot wrong and I do something wrong I get my ass on fire.

''But I guess you don't mess with people unless you feel they deserve it and I think the CSG industry deserves it. Maybe I just had a big fight in me, that I wanted to have.''

Ainsworth and Hutton have had their moments, too. During one confrontation, according to Ainsworth: ''I said to Drew, 'Are you running a Green agenda behind the scenes?' and Drew said, 'No, but I do talk to my Green friends'. And I said, 'Drew, if you're f---ing well running a Green agenda behind the scenes, I'm out of here, you'll never hear from me again, and that'll be the end of it'. He said, 'Are you threatening me?' and I said, 'Drew, I'm not threatening you, I just want you to play it straight because I'm putting my heart and soul into this'. Drew said, 'I'm not, I give you my word I'm not'.''

Hutton, who in June last year was voted president of Lock the Gate, confirms the conversation, and was rattled enough to ask others in Lock the Gate to intervene on his behalf. He and Ainsworth have since become friends.

What the Frack, by Paddy Manning, is published by newsouthbooks.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop