The Guardian • Issue #2044


Anna Pha

Last month Labor’s minister for environmental destruction, Tanya Plibersek, quietly granted Santos a licence to open 116 new coal seam gas wells in Queensland, making a mockery of Labor’s claims to be tackling climate change and protecting the environment. The licence runs until 2077. Not surprisingly the Greens are reconsidering their willingness to negotiate on Labor’s proposed safeguard mechanism. Greens leader Adam Bandt accused Labor of being “desperate to open up new coal and gas while they can.” Gas “is as dirty as coal, we’re in the middle of a climate crisis and Tanya Plibersek needs to explain why Labor is approving new gas fracking until 2077,” deputy Greens leader Mehreen Faruqi said.

Santos, one of the largest gas and oil producers in the world, has other fossil fuel projects in the pipeline. Its Narrabri Gas Project looks set to go ahead, possibly the final straw for the already substantially bleached Great Barrier Reef. Santos’ Narrabri project is set to carry out fracking for liquid natural gas in the Northwest Slopes region of NSW. The project would involve drilling up to 850 wells which is highly likely to have a negative impact on the Great Artesian Basin. The Gomeroi people appealed a decision in December 2022 by the National Native Title Tribunal which ruled that the public benefit (sic) of the gas project outweighed its environmental concerns. At the same time, it acknowledged the genuine concerns of the Gomeroi people that the project would cause “grave and irreversible consequences” to their culture, lands, and waters as well as contributing to climate change.

The importance of protecting the Great Artesian Basin cannot be over emphasised. It lies beneath parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales, spanning almost 1.7 million square kilometres which is over one-fifth of the Australian continent. It is critical to an $80 billion agricultural industry.

The Liverpool Plains is noteworthy for its rich fertile soil. It is also part of the Namoi River catchment, which has the largest groundwater system in the Murray-Darling catchment. In April 2021, the then NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro, announced that the government had decided there would be no more mining on the Liverpool Plains and that the water resources would be protected at sustainable levels. Now it appears it will receive the go-ahead in conjunction with the Hunter pipeline.

Santos aims to build an 833-kilometre gas pipeline stretching from southern Queensland to Newcastle. The Hunter pipeline would destroy highly productive farmland, as well as rare native vegetation. Both major parties are avoiding mention of the highly controversial project during campaigning for the NSW elections which are to be held later this month. They hope no one will notice their kowtowing to fossil fuel interests. The Greens and the independent Teals oppose the project but receive little media coverage. The Gomeroi people, farmers, and environmentalists have taken the fight to stop Santos to the courts.

Santos has donated at least $521,719 to the Labor Party since 2015. Independent MP Monique Ryan commented: “you’d have to say they’ve received an excellent return on their investment.” In 2020-21 it donated $153,600 in publicly declared political donations.

One new coal or gas mine is too many.

The people of Australia did not elect Santos to govern Australia. Electoral reform is long overdue. Donations from mining companies should be banned and the whole donation system made transparent with reporting in real time.

Footnote: In an act of incredible hypocrisy, Labor has joined with 104 other nations to co-sponsor Vanuatu’s attempt to have the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion on present and future generations’ right to be protected from climate change. Any decision would be non-binding.

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