Wollongong City Council last night voted to support peaceful and lawful protests against coal seam gas mining in the region's water catchment areas but stopped short of committing any financial or logistical support.
Councillors rejected a proposal by Greens councillor Jill Merrin for the council to take the unusual step of supporting an anti-coal seam gas blockade if exploratory drilling is approved in the northern Illawarra.
In front of a public gallery packed with Stop CSG Illawarra activists, Cr Merrin also asked her fellow representatives to provide logistical support - including portable toilets, rubbish facilities and shade structures - for a blockade stopping Apex Energy from drilling 16 exploration wells around Darkes Forest and Maddens Plains.
However, councillor David Brown said he was concerned about providing open-ended support for something as controversial as a blockade.
Instead he proposed the council pledge in principle support for any lawful and peaceful protest, and stay away from making any logistical or financial commitment.
"I worry that a blockade could get out of hand," he said,
"We are being asked to support something we haven't yet seen."
"I don't want this to be the end of the matter. Once we see it happening maybe we can support it. But we have got to be careful."
The council has previously voted to condemn exploratory coal seam gas drilling in the Illawarra's water catchment areas.
Leigh Colacino supported Cr Brown's motion, pledging his strong opposition to coal seam gas mining but saying the council could not be seen to condone illegal activity.
Greens councillor George Takacs said this type of support did not go far enough, instead suggesting the council cap their financial commitment at $10,000.
"We have to go beyond in principle support," he said.
"I don't think this amendment sends a strong enough message."
These comments drew applause from the public gallery.
Councillors John Dorahy, Michelle Blicavs and Greg Petty voted against the council providing any support.
While Cr Petty said he did not support coal seam gas mining in water catchment areas and planned to attend any blockade, he said he had a responsibility as a councillor to reject the support.
Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore spoke at the meeting, saying activists had resolved more than a year ago to blockade any exploration sites as soon as action started, but hoped it would not be necessary.
Apex Energy's application to extend its exploration project by three years is currently under consideration by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission.
The Department of Planning has already recommended the project be approved, saying it was an important opportunity to investigate possible local gas supplies within NSW.
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