GOVERNMENTS are right to support the principle of freedom of expression, but it is another thing altogether to allocate public money to an anti-industry campaign tool.
That is what is occurring with the bankrolling of a $1.2 million so-called 'documentary' about the natural gas industry, which was unveiled in Adelaide on Tuesday and is set to be shown to Sydney media on Thursday.
While Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has been busting a gut trying to work through a looming east coast gas supply crunch for tens of thousands of businesses and millions of gas consumers, arms of government have been busily funding a big element of the activist toolkit being used in the campaign to permanently shut down supply.
But it was not only Screen Australia that indulged the film-makers. ScreenWest and Screen Queensland also tipped in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The proposal's name, Frackman The Movie, should have been enough to raise their antenna. A 30-second internet search would then have highlighted a person who has been arrested a number of times when undertaking his Frackman fossil fuel protest activities.
The funding agencies might also have noted the stated intentions of the movie producers, to create a film that changes voter preferences, sparks a royal commission and is added to the national secondary school curriculum.
Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche belled the cat in Brisbane last week, pinpointing the movie funding issue and also highlighting the other less direct, but no less real, taxpayer support available to anti-industry protest groups.
"There are now more than 580 environmental non-government organisations in Australia and the vast majority of them have tax-deductible donation status," Mr Roche said.
"The top dozen activist groups - 11 of which have tax-deductible status - have an estimated 476 staff. Their annual revenues total almost $90 million. They are combining these resources to go up against fossil fuels."
And they are not alone. Mr Roche did not mention the money coming in from overseas, ironically mostly from the US, where an oil and natural gas boom has allowed the Obama administration to simultaneously crow about economic management and greenhouse gas emission reduction.
Shale gas has been a boon for President Obama in terms of supply and the price of energy, job creation and a new-found capacity to anticipate reduced emissions through the superior carbon footprint of gas-fired power.
So, in trying to shut down natural gas development, activists are seeking to deny Australians the economic benefits enjoyed by the US, including a better carbon emissions future.
The new Queensland government must be very glad the activist campaign did not stop the previous two State governments from developing what is the state's standout driver of economic growth: natural gas, which is chilled to a liquid form for export.
When all three LNG export plants at Gladstone are operating next year, royalties of $500 million a year are expected to flow into State government coffers.
In the Darling Downs, where a lot of the coal seam gas (CSG) development has taken place, thousands of farmers have struck agreements with gas companies that give them new income and allow them to continue farming.
Drought is less of a threat now. Young people leaving the area because of lack of opportunities are returning as flagging regional towns get their mojo back.
In short, gas has been great for most people in the Darling Downs - and it has not been responsible for any ecological disasters.
But don't tell that to the Frackman. The movie publicity describes the Frackman, Dayne Pratzky, as a pig shooter and "accidental activist".
But there is nothing accidental about the campaign he waged for several years against Queensland Gas Company, before and since he agreed to sell his Darling Downs property to QGC.
The film has been described by Verandah magazine as a cross between Crocodile Dundee and The Hobbit, which suggests it is not altogether serious.
But it is hard to tell if Verandah is serious when it says the film provides "plenty of mining conspiracies and high pathos" and that it "may well broaden the already universal appeal of Lock the Gate, whose mantra is creating a credible voice of opposition to a doomsday industrial cult ..." Pratzky says in the trailer: "If we can't stop this, it will destroy the world."
And what is the centre of all this doom and gloom? Hydraulic fracturing, the process of using water pressure to make tiny cracks in rock formations to allow gas to escape - a process used without significant ecological incident for 50 years in Australia and since the 1940s in North America.
Public money invested in Frackman the Movie: Screen Australia $200,000 plus a $435,000 film producer tax credit; Screen Queensland $220,000; ScreenWest $156,000.
Steve Wright is the director of the Energy Resource Information Centre.