Beetaloo Basin’s traditional owners condemn government for fracking handouts to gas companies

Traditional owners opposed to fracking in the Beetaloo Basin have condemned the Morrison government for handing tens of millions of dollars to gas companies while Indigenous communities lack basic housing and health infrastructure.

A Senate inquiry on Monday heard from a series of traditional owners in the Northern Territory about plans to open up the Beetaloo Basin to gas exploration and fracking.

The plan is part of the so-called “gas-led recovery” for stimulating economic growth following the pandemic and the federal government has already handed $21m in grants to Empire Energy, a firm with some links to the Liberal party, for exploratory drilling.

Two other companies with exploration permits, Falcon Oil and Gas and Sweetpea Petroleum, share links with tax secrecy jurisdictions, a previous hearing of the Senate inquiry has heard.

Traditional owners from Borroloola and Minyerri told the inquiry they feared fracking would poison their water and destroy the land. The traditional owners criticised a poor consultation and consent process, saying they had been given no information about the plans or told of any risks posed to the land by the fracking process.

Joni Wilson, a Yanyuwa and Garrwa woman, said fracking would destroy the water and land upon which traditional owners in Borroloola depended.

She said no permission had been given for fracking on their land.

“No one has come to us and asked us ‘hey here’s the paper, we want to do this on your land’. No one has done this," ella dijo.

“And if they did do it to our grandparents or my great, great grandparents, they didn’t know what the bloody hell they were signing. They didn’t understand, if someone in plain English would say ‘hey here’s a piece of paper to frack to destroy your country’, I don’t think my grandparents would have done anything.”

Johnny Wilson, speaking for the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, said it was “very disturbing” that the government was handing so much money to oil and gas companies while local communities struggled to obtain even basic infrastructure.

“I still live in a tin shack. My floor is bare ground. Where do I get money for my housing and stuff that I need to put on our land?" él dijo.

“Just like the other traditional owners on country we are struggling to even get the basic maintenance for our land, for our community, and yet the government is willing to pour so much money into destroying our country.”

Asman Rory, a Gudanji Garawa man, criticised the consent process and said traditional owners were not given proper information about the risks of fracking.

“All they were talking about is royalty, royalty, royalty. They were tricking my people into coming to a meeting knowing they are going to get some better money and then presenting everyone with this exploration," él dijo.

“Almost like blackmailing people to sign something just to get this bit of money, it’s been done wrongly for a very long time. I’m sick of seeing this stuff happen.

Aunty May August, an Alawa woman, said traditional owners in Minyerri were united in their opposition to fracking.

“Fracking is going to drill around our country, it’s going to poison all the water, it’s going to wreck fishing," ella dijo.

She said she had been trying to speak with Origin Energy about its plans for the area for more than two years. Invitations for executives to come to her country and meet with traditional owners were ignored, ella dijo.

“We went there for two years, Tres, they never came down to tell us what’s happening," ella dijo.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson Young, who is chairing the inquiry, dicho: “You invited Origin Energy onto your country to speak to you and they have not done that? They never showed up?"

August responded: “They never showed up.”

The Northern Land Council said it was not consulted over the new grant program to accelerate fracking in the Beetaloo Basin. The council said it wanted to see all recommendations from Justice Rachel Pepper’s inquiry into fracking implemented.

But it warned against assuming that all traditional owners were opposed to fracking.

The inquiry continues on Monday.

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