I rise to support this motion from the Member for Warringah to prevent the Government from proceeding with its plan to fast-track drilling in the Beetaloo Basin.

It is not difficult to see why we’ve got to stop this.

The environmental risks are astronomical.

The local traditional owners are opposed to it.

And the economic returns are so poor, that not even the gas industry itself is was willing to invest.

The Government only ever talks about the Beetaloo sub-basin in dollar figures and petajoules.

But what you’ll never hear them talk about are the CO2 emissions it’ll produce, the falling demand for gas in Australia and abroad, the First Nations groups who’ve been frozen out of this process, or the half a billion in subsidies and infrastructure that’ll be stranded in the blink of an eye.

All in the name of a ‘gas-led recovery’.

Energy and Environmental Economics

The economics here simply don’t stack up.

Gas might’ve been a viable transition fuel decades ago, but that moment has long passed.

Industry forecasts show gas will fall from 7.5 per cent of the National Energy Market in 2020 to just 1 per cent by 2030, replaced almost entirely by dispatchable storage solutions.

Our key gas export markets across China, Japan and South Korea will hit peak emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Even if this instrument passes today and the Government dishes out it’s $50 million in subsidies to the gas industry tomorrow, Australians wouldn’t see new gas from the Beetaloo in the National Energy Market until at least 2025.

Let’s think about that for a moment: this Government is pumping millions out the door in gas subsidies for a market that will simply not exist.

In what universe is this good economic management?

Even the Government’s own Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan admits this is straight up bad economics, listing the “closing window” of gas demand as a “serious challenge”.

Well Mr. Speaker, this is more than just a “serious challenge”.

It’s a fatal flaw.

The gas industry is also a miniscule employer in Australia.

It’s one of the least resource-intensive industries and employs a mere 0.2 per cent of the Australian workforce.

According to Rod Campbell, the Director of Research at the Australia Institute, “investing in almost any other industry would be a more effective way of creating jobs as part of the COVID-19 recovery” than through the Beetaloo Basin plan.

For every $1 million of output, the gas industry employs around 0.4 people in Australia. By contrast, the same output in health and education employs more than 10 people. That’s right: more than 20 times the return on investment for jobs.

At a time when GP offices are shouldering the burden of the Government’s vaccine rollout, and regional Australia is facing critical skill shortages in aged care, disability care and child care, spending almost half a billion to prop up a small number of jobs in a dead-end gas industry absolutely beggars belief.

The Beetaloo Basin Plan totally misunderstands economic needs and opportunities of regional and remote Australia.

Communities across my regional electorate of Indi aren’t asking for gas subsidies and an expansion to hydraulic fracking.

If anything, regional Australia wants a bigger slice of the renewable energy boom which, unlike gas, continues to grow.

The Australia Local Power Agency Bill I’ve introduced to Parliament would put the half a billion dollars this Government is spending on subsidies and stranded infrastructure in the Beetaloo Basin to much better use.

ALPA’s job would be to drive investment in locally-owned renewables in regional Australia, and put profits back into the pockets of communities, not multinational gas companies.

Last year, Australia installed 7 gigawatts of renewable energy – a record year. That’s enough to replace the Hazelwood power station more than 4 times, enough to power 3.1 million homes. And almost all of this was built in the regions.

Unlike gas, this upward trend will continue.

And it’s clean too.

What if we used these subsidies to train up young people to build solar panels and batteries locally, and to construct, operate and maintain renewable projects?

What if we used these subsidies to build up an industry of small businesses in the regions supplying and supporting renewable energy projects?

These investments won’t come with the environmental risks that plague hydraulic fracking.

Origin Energy’s own environmental report for 10,000 square-kilometres on the Beetaloo Basin warned that drilling “would pose a risk of causing aquifers under some properties to leak into each other”, deteriorating the quality of existing and future groundwater supplies.

The ecosystem in the outback is fragile and precious. Drilling will have unknown consequences for traditional owners, flora, fauna, and farmers. You won’t find these risks with large-scale wind and solar, Mr. Speaker.

Traditional Owners

Last week, I had the privilege of sitting down with the Member for Warringah and a delegation of traditional owners from the region where the Government plans to drill.

We heard from Nicholas Fitzpatrick, Joni Wilson, Asman Rory and May August who spoke on behalf of some of the many First Nations who feel they’ve been flatly ignored by the Government in their opposition to the drilling on their lands.

They told me that from a Western world view, you can play with geography and the environment on a topographical map and reprint the new version on the map the next day.

But in their world, you disrupt the geography and the environment, and the song lines are lost forever.

In a heartfelt letter, their communities said the following:

We speak as Traditional Owners and custodians of and around the lands and waters that you call the Beetaloo and connected basins. 

Although we come from many Nations, we have come together to put an end to the ongoing threat of fracking, which will denigrate and desecrate our lands.

Together, we fight for it. 

Our connections to country have been established and proven time and time again by the white man’s law. 

We hold Native Title and Land Rights – a system that is meant to protect and enforce our rights. 

These have been denied to us. 

For years, we have been told lies by the gas and oil corporations. That there would be no damage to the country or poison in our waters. 

These companies won’t even answer the most basic of questions: where they plan to drill or how many wells they want to build. 

These gas corporations lack any respect for us as Traditional Owners. They have failed to follow proper process in consultation with us, failed to acquire consent, failed to provide transparency in their dealings with us, and have systematically excluded our voices from the decision-making process for activities on our Country. 

We don’t have the same resources as these corporations. 

The system is already set up against us. 

This Federal Government coming in over the top of what little processes we have undermines our land rights as Northern Territory Traditional Owners. 

The same Government who has never come out to our communities to sit with us or meet with us. 

They are failing to represent us.

What a painful sentence to relay to this House from the traditional owners of the lands upon which this Government proposes to drill, Mr. Speaker.

“They are failing to represent us”.

So, who are the Government representing here?

Whose interests are being prosecuted?

It’s certainly not the traditional owners.

And it’s certainly not the Australian taxpayer, whose money would be spent better elsewhere.

Many would tell me to look at the coffers of the Government’s political donations bank accounts to find some answers.

But how are we to know without much needed electoral finance reform and a robust federal integrity commission?

And without a permanent indigenous voice to Parliament as envisaged through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, my greatest fear is that this Government, and future Governments, will forever hear that painful sentence from our First Nations communities:  “They are failing to represent us”.

It is an honour to second this motion from the Member for Warringah to prevent the Government from proceeding with its plan to fast-track drilling in the Beetaloo Basin.

Read Haines joins 59 eminent Australians to launch open letter demanding integrity commission