The Australian Greens strongly oppose the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021 (the Instrument). It should be disallowed by the Senate.
Evidence received by this inquiry clearly shows that developing a fracking industry in the Beetaloo Basin is flawed policy, economically, socially and environmentally, and that the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program grants process has serious deficiencies in the consultation that informed it, as well as its design and integrity in its implementation.
Economically, the subsidising of broad-scale fracking in the NT as the sun sets on coal and gas industries does not make sense. As the majority report found, the modelling underpinning the measure is based on unrealistic assumptions, and it will 'will bring few jobs, little tax, and will continue to be a drain on Australian taxpayers for decades to come'.
The four companies lining up to receive the $50 million of grants have paid no tax in Australia, and are unlikely to pay tax in the future. Two of these companies – Sweetpea and Tamboran are headquartered in tax havens with no publicly available information on who ultimately owns them. Santos has consistently failed to pay tax despite billions in revenue, but still somehow finds money to provide political donations each year. Even the Australian Tax Office has labelled Australia's gas industry 'systemic non-payers of tax'.
Evidence received by the committee also suggests that the award of grants under the measure has not been sufficiently transparent to assure Australians of its integrity. Most seriously, it appears that $21 million of Commonwealth funds has been awarded to a company that may not have met the assessment criteria, pays no corporate tax in Australia, and which has deep connections to Cabinet Ministers the Liberal Party more generally.
More broadly, the Australian Greens find it disturbing that the government would ignore the longstanding, consistent and broad opposition to this measure by the communities of the NT. This includes sustained opposition from Traditional Owners and Native Title holders, who have told the government and the committee that fracking would poison the health of surface and groundwater, and harm the cultural and spiritual practices of local First Nations communities.
The government's push to develop fracking in the Beetaloo also ignores the concerns raised by NT pastoralists that damage to water in the Beetaloo would harm their livelihoods, their stock, and the health of consumers.
This widespread opposition was expressed not only to this inquiry, but also to the NT Government's Pepper Inquiry into fracking which noted the:
…overwhelming consensus was that hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas in the NT is not safe, is not trusted and is not wanted.
Local communities know that the expansion of fracking in the Beetaloo will compromise the health of these communities, ecosystems, threatened species, and harm the local environment.
However, besides these short-term negative effects for the NT and Australia, fracking the Beetaloo will significantly degrade the global environment. In particular, it would drive up our already high national per capita emissions of greenhouse gas. This will contribute towards the devastating effects of climate change, as recently highlighted by the IEA's Net zero by 2050 report as well as the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report.
The Australian Greens note that there is currently a case before the Federal Court of Australia, which challenges the awarding of grants to Empire Energy on environmental grounds. There are also more questions that have arisen around the governance of this scheme and the funding of roads into the region that this committee will inquire into further.
As the committee's final report is not due until early 2021, this inquiry will seek more information on the negative economic and environmental effects of this policy, including from Traditional Owners, Native Title holders and other communities that will be directly affected by its implementation.
As noted above, the Australian Greens are opposed to the unnecessary and unjustified development of fracking in the Beetaloo, which will push Australia's mediocre climate goals well beyond reach.
The Morrison Government has a track record of developing policy to favour its political supporters or to gain political advantage. The prioritisation of short‑term financial gain for its well-resourced vested interests has again occurred at the expense of future generations.
This is yet another initiative of the government that hands out large sums of Australian taxpayers' money to vested interests for questionable outcomes, despite the number of serious unresolved questions on its probity and integrity.
The Australian Greens therefore recommend that the Instrument be disallowed by the Senate.
The Australian Greens recommend that the Senate disallow the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021.
Should the disallowance motion be unsuccessful, the Australian Greens recommend that the measure be subject to greater scrutiny, comprehensive review, and increased environmental protections.
To these ends, the Australian Greens support the recommendations of the majority report that would:
ensure transparency and accountability in Commonwealth funding mechanisms;
review of the consultation processes through which Traditional Owners and Native Title holders are informed of the development of the measure; and
strengthen environmental protections, including through the addition of shale gas fracking to the EPBC Act's 'water trigger' and the requirement to offset all additional emissions that any gas extraction would create.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young