The federal government recently awarded more than $50 million in public funding to support fracking in the Northern Territory – that’s despite fierce opposition from the Greens, climate advocates, and Traditional Owners.
A Greens motion failed to stop exploratory drilling in the Beetaloo Basin and wider McArthur River Basins from continuing after Labor voted with the Morrison Government to allocate the funds to gas and mining companies.
The purpose of the federal grants program is “to encourage and facilitate gas exploration activities in the Beetaloo sub‑basin.”
That is despite a unanimous ‘no’ from an estimated 60 First Nations groups living in the area and strong evidence drilling could add 13 per cent each year to Australia’s total carbon emissions.
Gunnai, Gunditjmara, and DjabWurrung Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe claimed the major parties were beholden to donations from fossil fuel companies which had lied to the basin’s Traditional Owners about the likelihood of environmental damage.
“We saw at Beetaloo how the Labor and Liberal parties decided to destroy Country, in favour of a company that makes big donations to both of their parties. Too many sacred sites have already been destroyed,” Thorpe said.
Hannah Ekin is a campaigner for Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) the peak environmental organisation in central Australia and says the money could be better spent fixing the poor state of housing in the region.
“It’s extremely disappointing, there’s been a senate inquiry into this money for the past six months now and we’ve heard stories of corruption, we’ve Traditional Owners for the region saying repeatedly that they don’t want this project to go ahead and that they don’t want government money spent on this project.”
Ms Ekin said they would like to see the $50 million invested into some of the basic essential services that the government isn’t providing First Nations people and their communities.
Things “like housing, improving the roads – so yeah it’s a really disappointing decision particularly from Labor.”
Protect Country Alliance Spokesperson Graeme Sawyer, who has family ties to Yanyuwa mob in Borroloola believes the Northern Land Council, whose purpose is to assist First Nations people in the Top End in managing their traditional lands and seas, are failing the Traditional Owners.
“The Traditional Owners in October said there had been a payment made a few weeks before I was there from Imperial for one of the wells, but they only got 25 per cent of that payment and the other 75 per cent went to the land councils – I’m assuming it went into one of the trust accounts, but nobody really seems to know,” Sawyer said.
“That really brings a concern to my mind, that if you’ve got somebody representing you in negotiations and they’re getting 75 per cent of the payment and you’re getting 25 per cent, who are they actually representing?”
“I’ve heard so many Traditional Owners say to me that they haven’t given their consent and they don’t want this process happening on their country and yet the Northern Land Council and others seem to be saying it’s all good.”