Northern Territory traditional owners are outraged by a $50 million federal government grant to fast-track gas fracking in the Beetaloo Basin.
The money should be spent on housing, health, education and opportunities to lift Aboriginal people out of the grinding poverty afflicting many of them, a parliamentary inquiry was told.
“I still live in a tin shack. My floor is bare ground. When will I get money for my housing?” Beetaloo traditional owner Johnny Wilson told a Senate Inquiry into oil and gas exploration and production in the basin on Monday.
Mr Wilson said many Aboriginal people in the NT were struggling to access basic services in their communities.
“It is very disturbing that our government will not listen to us. Injecting so much money into oil and gas when it should be used somewhere else”, he said.
The Morrison government announced the Beetaloo exploratory drilling grants in March to help speed up gas production in the region.
The basin is one of five gas fields the Commonwealth plans to develop for its “gas-led recovery” from the COVID-19 crisis.
An independent inquiry in 2018 found that even small-scale developments in the Beetaloo could create more than 6500 full-time jobs and generate $2.8 billion for the cash-strapped NT economy over 25 years.
But plans to use hydraulic fracturing to unlock the Beetaloo’s gas reserves have caused concerns among many Territorians, who fear chemicals used in the process could contaminate groundwater.
“Our future isn’t looking so bright at the moment,” Mr Wilson said.
“Please stop this altogether. $50 million … education, health, our roads, what’s wrong with money being spent on those?
“We need our country. This is our future we are talking about. The mining companies are ruining our country. Our water will be the first to go. Without water there is no life”
Gudanji Garawa man Asman Rory said inadequate essential services coupled with mining on country without proper consent was destroying Aboriginal people.
“They don’t take any consideration for our concerns or our way of life … and the government has the audacity to give away $50 million to the fracking companies when we have a crisis,” he said.
Mr Rory said the money should instead be spent on housing, families, health and education.
Mr Wilson said he spoke for about 60 Aboriginal groups located in the Beetaloo Basin, who shared songlines and a deep cultural connection to their land.
He was critical of the consultation process with the mining companies and the Northern Land Council.
Some access agreements were not properly explained before they were signed more than a decade ago, resulting in communities being torn apart.
“There have been arguments because one person in a family has signed over these agreements without knowledge of the whole family or the whole clan,” he said.
“It’s destroying Aboriginal people. It’s creating a huge fight.”
Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt announced on July 7 that the first $21 million of the grant had been awarded to Imperial Oil and Gas for exploration in the basin.
About 90 per cent of the Territory’s supply comes from groundwater sources, according to the NT government.
The hearing continues.