Second interim report
This interim report is to inform the Senate about actions of Tamboran Resources Limited (Tamboran) that may constitute contempt of the Senate, arising during the course of the inquiry of the Environment and Communications Committee (the committee) into oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin.
The committee tabled its first interim report in this inquiry in August 2021 and is due to table its final report on 21 April 2022.
On 22 and 25 March 2022, the committee held public hearings, in Darwin and Canberra respectively. This report details the invitations extended and a summons issued by the committee to Tamboran and refusals by Tamboran to appear at these hearings, either by invitation or summons.
Sweetpea Petroleum Pty Ltd (Sweetpea), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tamboran, has received a Commonwealth Government grant of $7.5 million to conduct exploratory drilling activities in the Beetaloo Basin under the Commonwealth’s Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling (BCD) program. It is critical to the committee’s inquiry that Tamboran answer questions from the committee regarding its activities in the Beetaloo Basin, to ensure transparency and accountability over the BCD program, and so ensure taxpayer funds are expended appropriately and in the public interest.
Tamboran and Sweetpea
Tamboran is a publicly listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange and is one of the key petroleum companies currently conducting exploratory activities in the Beetaloo Basin.
On 7 March 2022, the Minister for Resources and Water, the Hon Keith Pitt MP, announced a $7.5 million Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program (BCD) grant to Sweetpea. Sweetpea is a wholly-owned subsidiary company of Tamboran.
When the grant was received, Tamboran announced that ‘the funding will support the drilling of the Maverick 1H (“M1H”) well within Tamboran’s 100 per cent owned and operated EP 136 permit, located within the ‘Core’ Beetaloo Sub-basin during calendar year 2022.’
Invitations and order to appear at public hearings
Detailed below, the committee has set out the invitations to Tamboran to appear at a public hearing and its responses, and an order to attend issued by the committee:
On 1 March 2022, the committee sent an invitation to Tamboran to appear at the public hearing held in Darwin on 22 March. This invitation was sent via the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), of which Tamboran is a member.
On 1 March, Mr Joel Riddle, the Managing Director & CEO of Tamboran, replied to this initial invitation stating Tamboran would not be ‘able to appear’ at the hearing on 22 March.
On 11 March, the committee replied to Mr Riddle’s correspondence of 1 March, requesting Tamboran to reconsider an appearance in light of the recent BCD grant awarded to its subsidiary Sweetpea. In this correspondence, the committee also noted the opportunity for Tamboran to appear via teleconference if more convenient than an in person appearance.
On 11 March, Mr Riddle responded, again declining to appear, despite acknowledging Tamboran’s subsidiary Sweetpea’s recent receipt of the $7.5 million grant (Appendix 1).
On 16 March, the committee again wrote to Tamboran, requesting that it reconsider its refusal to appear at the 22 March hearing, expressing it was ‘deeply concerned’ about its failure to appear in light of the BCD grant. No response was received from Tamboran.
On 18 March, the committee wrote to Tamboran, inviting it to appear at a public hearing on 25 March in Canberra, as part of a panel alongside representatives from other energy companies with an interest in the Beetaloo Basin, Santos Limited (Santos) and Origin Energy (Origin). In this correspondence, the committee noted that it may use its power to compel attendance if Tamboran were to decline this invitation.
On 21 March, Mr Riddle responded to the committee’s correspondence of 18 March, again refusing to appear, commenting ‘we understand we are absolutely entitled not to appear if we wish.’ (Appendix 1)
On 21 March, the committee, considering Tamboran’s appearance to be of significant importance to the inquiry, issued an order, pursuant to Standing Order 25(14), for Tamboran to attend the hearing on 25 March.
No response was received in relation to this order, and Tamboran failed to attend the public hearing in Canberra on 25 March.
The committee considers it unacceptable that Tamboran, a publicly listed company, whose subsidiary has received a multi-million-dollar grant of taxpayer money, has refused to appear and answer questions in relation to its petroleum exploration activities in the Beetaloo Basin.
The committee expresses strong dissatisfaction with the actions of Tamboran, having been repeatedly requested, and then summoned, to appear before the committee, and repeatedly refusal to appear.
In the committee’s view, Tamboran’s actions, on their face, may constitute contempt of the Senate, pursuant to Senate Privilege Resolution 6(13), which states ‘a person shall not, without reasonable excuse…refuse or fail to attend before the Senate or a committee when ordered to do so’.
The committee notes that there will not be sufficient time to allow for a referral of this matter to, and consideration by, the Privileges Committee in the 46th Parliament.
However, the committee resolves to commence this process by notifying the President of the grounds for the referral under Privilege Resolution 7, and then pursue this matter further in the 47th Parliament.
Finally, the committee notes that individual Senators may also wish to pursue this matter separately.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young