Indigenous Elders ask what it will take to stop the NT fracking industry
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Larrakia Elder June Mills is appalled that the moratorium on fracking in NT has ended.
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Indigenous Elders ask what it will take to stop the NT fracking industry

by Rima Martens See Profile
Northern Territory, Australia
28th Mar 2019
Indigenous Elders ask what it will take to stop the NT fracking industry

In April 2018, Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced that fracking will resume in NT, opening up 51% of land to the industry and ending a 15-month scientific inquiry that had placed a moratorium on the practice territory-wide. The inquiry acknowledged the widespread concern that there has not been a genuine effort to engage appropriately with Indigenous Australian landholders or consider the detrimental effects that the industry will have on sacred sites. Warlpiri Elder Mr Ned Jampijnpa Hargraves submitted to the inquiry that fracking “is digging up my body, breaking my Tjukurpa.” Regardless, it is set to begin in September 2019.

“Fracking is a pretty frightening industry”, said Larrakia Elder June Mills of Darwin. “The potential to irreparably damage the environment shouldn’t be taken lightly.” As Gunner left the building at the end of a press release last year, Mills didn’t hold back in expressing her frustration. The encounter was recorded by the ABC media team.

“Nobody wants fracking. It’s been proven, it’s dangerous, it’s environmentally unsafe. It’s unhealthy. What don’t you get? Are you not listening to your constituents? Everybody gets it. Even the children in primary school get it. But you don’t get it”, she protested.

The ABC’s online video of Mills went viral, hitting up to over 2 million views and over 20,000 shares. For the Larrakia elder, this was a turning point in recognising the level of support that the rest of Australia has for Indigenous Australians fighting the fracking industry. However, it also revealed an alarming disconnect between government leaders and public sentiment.

“It shows that people really are concerned about the environment and that not many people seem to want it [fracking]. This brings the question to my mind about what is it going to take? Does it take civil disobedience? Does it take the citizens of Darwin to go out there with picks and shovels and start digging up the place? Why are they are not listening?”

Led by Justice Rachel Pepper, the final report summary of the Northern Territory Fracking Inquiry was aware of the controversy while being drafted. “It must be noted that the strong antipathy surrounding hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas demonstrated during the consultations did not abate”, it stated. Regardless, the inquiry concluded fracking is environmentally safe.

Despite it being a part of the fossil fuel industry and contributing to Australia’s GHG emissions, the report claimed that the process posed an "acceptable" risk. According to The Australia Institute, if all NT shale gas was exploited, it would represent the equivalent of up to 60 times Australia’s current annual emission. That is equal to building 130 coal power plants and operating them for 40 years. The primary critique levelled by Indigenous Australians is the very real threat of water contamination. The potential for damage is significant considering that the NT relies on groundwater for 90% of both its domestic and commercial uses.

Particularly at risk are Indigenous Australians living in regional communities. Northern Territory Inquiry consultants have been accused of using manipulative tactics which include suggesting Indigenous communities capitalize on the prospect of fracking. In particular, residents from the town of Elliot recorded a meeting where they were told to consider the opportunity for getting a cattle station.

“That’s the greatest lie ever”, said Mills. “It’s bullying when they go down and convince them that fracking is going to be good for their community. We are talking about the most disadvantaged people in our country. We are talking about little to no access to outside information, even limited internet. Then the representatives go in there with their lies. You know people voted for Gunner because he was going to ban fracking.”

There has been significant pressure from the Federal Government to lift the fracking moratorium. In September 2018, while then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was giving a speech, Gunner, who was in the audience, was asked to “pull the trigger ... we need that gas down here”. Furthermore, a week after the NT ended the moratorium, it was given an extra $260 million as compensation for its low GST share, as well as an extra $550 million over the span of five years for remote Indigenous housing. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then treasurer, denied that the timing of the decision was linked to the lifting of the ban.

Mills’ greatest concern remains protecting quality of life for future generations, especially Indigenous communities. As a grandmother, she does not take her responsibility to ensure the safety of her grandchildren lightly.

“For the sake of all children, I don’t only want to stop fracking in the Northern Territory, I want to see the industry done and dusted. It’s the dirtiest industry since Uranium and I feel its urgency. So I’ll just keep talking, saying this stuff over again. You know the saying, give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves? Well this is no laughing matter.”

Support the Lock the Gate Alliance, a movement to protect Australia from coal mining and gas fracking.

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Rima Martens

About Rima Martens

Rima Martens is a freelance writer and law student from Sydney, Australia. It is through both of these pursuits that she finds community with others that are interested in redistributing power. Her work focuses on the issues of Indigenous Peoples, the environment and the promotion of human rights.

More from Rima Martens

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First Nations
Northern Territory, Australia
28th March 2019

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