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Environment and Communications References Committee—Senate Standing—Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin—Progress report, dated 28 April 2022

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Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin

Progress Report

28 April 2022

1.1 On 23 June 2021, the Senate referred the inquiry into Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin to the Environment and Communications References Committee, for interim report by 3 August 2021 and final report by 29 March 2022.1

1.2 The terms of reference for the inquiry are:

Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin, with particular reference to the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021, which provides public money for oil and gas corporations.2

1.3 On 3 August 2021, the committee was granted an extension of time for the interim report to table by 24 August 2021.3 The interim report was tabled on 24 August 2021 (Interim Report).4

1.4 On 8 February 2022, the committee was granted an extension of time to table the final report by 21 April 2022.5

1.5 While preparing the final report, a matter of parliamentary privilege arose, leading the committee to table a second interim report on 28 March 2022 (Second Interim Report, discussed below).6

1.6 On 21 April 2022, the committee was granted a further extension of time for the final report to table by 28 April 2022.

1.7 The committee requests a further extension of time for the final report to table by 2 August 2022 to allow the committee more time to consider the evidence received and to conclude its deliberations.

1 Journals of the Senate, No. 105, 23 June 2021, p. 3722.

2 Journals of the Senate, No. 105, 23 June 2021, p. 3722.

3 Journals of the Senate, No. 107, 3 August 2021, p. 3800.

4 Journals of the Senate, No. 115, 24 August 2021, p. 3970.

5 Journals of the Senate, No. 134, 8 February 2022, p. 4458.

6 Journals of the Senate, No. 138, 29 March 2022, p. 4612.


Conduct of the inquiry 1.8 The committee called for submissions by 7 July 2021 and received 316 submissions, 1081 form letters (with variations) and 137 short statements (less than 250 words) for the inquiry.

1.9 The committee held five public hearings for the inquiry in Canberra on 28 July 2021, 2 August 2021 and 25 March 2022, and in Darwin on 22 and 23 March 2022.

1.10 Public submissions, additional information, Committee Hansard transcripts, tabled documents, and answers to questions on notice have been published on the committee's website at

Pepper Inquiry 1.11 In 2016 the Northern Territory (NT) Government announced an immediate moratorium and Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Territory (the Pepper Inquiry).7

1.12 The Pepper Inquiry reported to the NT Government in 2018, making 135 recommendations that, if fully implemented, would mitigate, reduce or eliminate the risks of onshore shale gas development.8

1.13 The NT Government accepted all of the Pepper Inquiry recommendations9 and subsequently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Government to work together to develop the Territory’s onshore shale gas industry in the Beetaloo.10

BCD Program 1.14 In 2020 the Minister for Resources and Water, the Hon Keith Pitt MP, announced the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program (BCD Program).11

7 Hon Michael Gunner, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, 'Delivering on our Fracking

Moratorium election commitment', Media Release, 14 September 2016, (accessed 26 April 2022).

8 The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory, 'Remarks upon delivery

of Final Report', (accessed 26 April 2022).

9 Northern Territory Government, ‘Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing, Implementation

Plan, 2018’, (accessed 26 April 2022).

10 Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, answers to questions on notice, 24

February 2022 (received 17 March 2022), pp. 4-12.

11 The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, 'Beetaloo strategic

plan will unlock gas, jobs and development', Media Release, 17 December 2020, (accessed 26 April 2022). Note: Minister Pitt was formerly the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia (6 February 2020 to 2 July 2021).


This $50 million program provides grants of up to $750 000 to $7.5 million per well for eligible applicants (maximum three wells).

1.15 The BCD Program is funded through the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021 and aims to:

 accelerate exploration and appraisal activities for prospective petroleum activities in the Beetaloo; and  incentivise drilling in the Beetaloo to deliver approximately 10 additional wells to build a comprehensive understanding of the resource.12

1.16 In its Interim Report, the committee examined the first three funding grants of up to $21 million, which were approved in July 2021 for Imperial Oil and Gas, a fully owned subsidiary of Empire Energy Group Ltd.

1.17 Since the tabling of the Interim Report, a fourth funding grant of $7.5 million has been announced for Sweetpea Petroleum Pty Ltd (Sweetpea), a fully owned subsidiary of Tamboran Resources Limited (Tamboran).

1.18 The committee has not been able to examine the funding grant to Sweetpea, as Tamboran declined to attend public hearings when invited to do so and failed to respond to a summons from the committee to attend the 25 March hearing.

1.19 In its Second Interim Report, the committee advised of a possible contempt of the Senate, pursuant to Privilege Resolution 6(13), and the committee’s intention to seek a referral of the matter to the Senate Committee of Privileges in the 47th Parliament.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Chair

12 Australian Government, Grant Connect, 'Current Grant Opportunity View - GO4630' (accessed 2 August 2021).


Additional comments from Labor Senators

1.1 Labor senators note that exploration of the Beetaloo has been underway for many years. This activity has contributed to the economy of the Northern Territory through direct and indirect jobs and spending.

1.2 However, Labor senators maintain concerns about transparency and accountability of federal government support for private companies undertaking petroleum exploration in the Beetaloo, particularly the actions of ministers and some private companies.

1.3 Throughout the inquiry, the Senate and the committee have sought to obtain information from the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, and the Minister for Resources and Water, the Hon Keith Pitt MP (collectively, ‘the Ministers’), to enable full and proper scrutiny of the Beetaloo Cooperative Development Program (BCD Program).1

1.4 In support of this inquiry, the Senate agreed to two orders for the production of certain documents from the Ministers.2 The committee also placed two sets of written questions on notice with the Ministers: the first seeking clarification of information provided earlier to the Senate;3 and the second requesting the Ministers to furnish full and proper answers to the request for clarification (‘the correspondence dated 22 October 2021’).4

1.5 The Ministers purported to comply with the Senate’s first order for production, concurrently forwarding to the committee their responses to the correspondence dated 22 October 2021.5 However, the Ministers did not

1 Note: Minister Pitt was formerly the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia (6

February 2020 to 2 July 2021) and is referred to throughout this report by his current ministerial title (Minister for Resources and Water, from 2 July 2021).

2 Note: these were Orders for Production No. 1262 and 1291: Parliament of Australia, ‘Orders for the

Production of Documents’, pp. 73 and 79, ate_business/OPDs (accessed 9 February 2022).

3 Parliament of Australia, ‘Orders for the Production of Documents’, Order for Production No. 1209,

pp. 64-65.

4 See: ‘Additional Documents’, s/BeetalooBasin/Additional_Documents?docType=Correspondence (accessed 31 March 2022).

5 Parliament of Australia, ‘Orders for the Production of Documents’, p. 73; Hon Angus Taylor MP,

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, answers to written questions on notice, 22 October 2021 (received 24 November 2021); Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources and Water, answers to written questions on notice, 22 October 2021 (received 25 November 2021),


provide the unredacted documents specified, providing instead the exact same heavily redacted document released under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and erroneously citing the application of that Act, which does not apply to Senate Orders.6

1.6 Labor senators note that the Ministers’ attention had been specifically drawn to Senate Procedural Resolution 51, which recalls statements made by the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure that:

(i) there is no basis in law for the application of the FOI Act to the production of documents to a House,

(ii) if a minister were to regard all of the exemption provisions in the FOI Act as grounds on which to claim a privilege against disclosure of information to a House, this would considerably expand the grounds of executive privilege hitherto claimed, and

(iii) the use of the provisions of the FOI Act as a checklist of grounds for nondisclosure does not relieve a minister of the responsibility of carefully considering whether the minister should seek to withhold documents from a House, or from considering the question in the context of the importance of the matters under examination by the House.7

1.7 On 1 December 2021, the Senate again ordered the Ministers to produce the unredacted documents sought by the committee. The Ministers made no claim for Public Interest Immunity, a recognised grounds for non-production, they simply responded that they had ‘complied’, leading to a third request from the committee for the unredacted documents.8 This request noted that ‘it would be reasonable for personal details to remain redacted’ however, much of the redaction did not relate to personal details.

1.8 It is unacceptable that the Ministers’ behaviour has been deliberate and designed to cause maximum disruption to the committee’s examination of these important matters. Equally, the Ministers’ actions clearly demonstrate the disdain the federal government has for the proper scrutiny of the use of taxpayers’ money.

s/BeetalooBasin/Additional_Documents?docType=Answer%20to%20Question%20on%20Notice (accessed 9 February 2022).

6 FOI Disclosure Log 21-013-68011m, Document 3; FOI Disclosure Log 21-013-68011m, Document 4;

FOI Disclosure Document 68003.

7 Australian Senate, Procedural Orders and Resolutions of the Senate of Continuing Effect, Procedural

Resolution 51.

8 Parliament of Australia, ‘Orders for the Production of Documents’, p. 79; ‘Additional Documents’.


1.9 As Senator Murray Watt stated:

…when taxpayers' funds are being provided to private sector interests, whether it be in the gas industry or any other industry, we need to be confident that those grants have been administered and approved on a completely above-board basis. I think we are right to be concerned about the distribution of these grants in particular… [W]e have at least four occasions when ministers or other witnesses appear to have given misleading information to either the Senate or this inquiry... Labor will use the Senate inquiry to pursue this apparent misleading evidence from witnesses. What we will also do is move another motion for an order to produce documents this week in this chamber to seek all correspondence relating to Minister Taylor's visit to the Northern Territory, there is a stench around these grants.9

1.10 Labor senators will continue to ensure the actions of the Ministers do not go without due scrutiny. Following the tabling of the Interim Report, Ms Madeleine King MP, Shadow Minister for Resources, Senator the Hon Kristina Keneally, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, along with the Leader of the Australian Greens, raised serious probity concerns about the administration of the BCD Program and requested an audit by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).10 Whilst there is no current intention for the ANAO to conduct an audit, Labor senators hope this will be a possibility in the future.

1.11 In addition, the Interim Report of August 2021 focussed on the BCD Program, which aims to encourage and facilitate oil and gas exploration in the Beetaloo, and an associated funding instrument, the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021 (Instrument).

1.12 On 17 December 2020, Minister Pitt announced the BCD Program. This program provides up to $50 million over two years for petroleum exploration that occurs in the Beetaloo before 30 June 2022. Eligible applicants can apply for grants of up to 25 per cent of eligible project expenditure, with a minimum of $750 000 and a maximum of $7.5 million per well.

1.13 On 7 July 2021, Minister Pitt announced the first grants under the BCD Program. Imperial Oil and Gas, a fully owned subsidiary of Empire Energy Group Ltd, was successful in its applications for up to $21 million for three exploration wells in the Exploration Permit 187 area. These grants were examined in some detail in Chapter 2 of the Interim Report.

9 Senator Murray Watt, Senate Hansard, 24 August 2021, pp. 5107-5108.

10 Australian National Audit Office, ‘Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program’, (accessed 9 February 2022). Also see: Australian National Audit Office, ‘Management of the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program’, (accessed 22 April 2022).


1.14 The BCD Program is open for funding applications until 30 June 2022 or until fully subscribed (whichever is the earlier). Since tabling of the Interim Report, a fourth grant has been made under the program—to Sweetpea Petroleum Pty Ltd (Sweetpea) for $7.5 million.

1.15 Tamboran Resources Ltd (Tamboran) owns 100 per cent of Sweetpea. Tamboran declined to appear at any of the public hearings, including when summoned to do so on 25 March 2022. The committee therefore had no opportunity to ask Tamboran about the project, including, for example, the status and extent of its environmental approvals.11

1.16 The committee considered it critical to the inquiry that Tamboran attend a public hearing to answer questions about Tamboran and Sweetpea’s joint venture in the Beetaloo, to ensure transparency and accountability of the BCD Program and that taxpayer funds are being expended appropriately and in the public interest.

1.17 Labor senators note the details contained in the Second Interim Report detailing the multiple invitations and follow-ups issued to Tamboran prior to the decision of the committee to issue a summons.

1.18 At that time, the committee noted that there would not be sufficient time to allow for a referral and consideration of this matter by the Standing Committee of Privileges in the 46th Parliament. However, the committee has commenced this process and will pursue it further in the 47th Parliament.12

1.19 It is highly unsatisfactory for information and evidence from Tamboran not to be available to the committee. Collectively, the failure of the federal government, the Ministers and this private company to provide adequate information across the course of the inquiry in various respects results in the public’s faith in the spending of public money, and ultimately in the process for the exploration of the Beetaloo Basin, being undermined.

11 Note: the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) provided some

information in relation to the funding grant: answers to questions on notice, 25 March 2022 (received 8 April 2022), pp. 8 and 17.

12 Journals of the Senate, No. 138, 29 March 2022, p. 4608.


Senator Nita Green Member

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy Substitute Member

Senator Glenn Sterle Substitute Member


Australian Greens' additional comments

1.1 The Australian Greens support the extension of the Beetaloo inquiry into the 47th Parliament so that the committee can continue to wade through the cronyism, corporate favours and even allegations of corruption that are emanating from the entire Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program (BCD Program) at both a Federal and Territory level. The Australian Greens believe that applying pressure to the next government to halt this program is of paramount importance so that First Nations voices in particular can continue to be heard.

BCD Program 1.2 In August 2021, the committee’s Interim Report identified multiple concerns with the BCD Program, including that three funding grants of up to $21 million had been awarded to Imperial Oil and Gas, a fully owned

subsidiary of Empire Energy Group Ltd (Empire Energy).

1.3 The committee found that Empire Energy had deep connections to the Liberal Party, and had lobbied government ministers, attended party fundraisers and flown the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, and his staff on a private jet prior to the grants decisions. These highly questionable activities had the actual or perceived effect of improperly influencing grants decisions subsequently made by the Minister for Resources and Water, the Hon Keith Pitt MP.1

1.4 The Australian Greens moved that the funding instrument—the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021—be disallowed by the Senate however, this did not occur as the two major parties voted to retain the $50 million in funding.2

Coalition Government’s response to scrutiny 1.5 Throughout the inquiry, the committee sought further information from Minister Taylor and Minister Pitt (collectively, ‘the Ministers’), to facilitate the full and proper scrutiny of the BCD Program.

1.6 The Senate has since on two occasions ordered the production of unredacted documents that show correspondence between Empire Energy and the Ministers of the Crown. The Ministers have consistently resisted this scrutiny,

1 Note: Minister Pitt was formerly the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia

(6 February 2020 to 2 July 2021) and is referred to throughout this report by his current ministerial title (Minister for Resources and Water, from 2 July 2021).

2 Journals of the Senate, No. 130, 29 November 2021, pp. 4337-4338.


by repeatedly providing late and incomplete responses to the committee’s requests and the Senate’s orders for further information.

1.7 The Australian Greens view the Ministers’ behaviour as being calculated to obstruct the inquiry, hide the nature of the relationship between government Ministers and donors receiving public money, as well as demonstrating complete disregard for the function of the Senate and the committee. In addition, this behaviour has been a wilful misuse of the Senate and Senators’ time.

Gas company in possible contempt of Parliament 1.8 A second company that has since received a grant after tabling of the committee’s Interim Report, Sweetpea Petroleum Pty Ltd (Sweetpea), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tamboran Resources Ltd (Tamboran), was gifted

$7.5 million under the BCD Program.

1.9 Tamboran has refused to give evidence to the committee, despite the committee having taken the rare step of issuing a summons to compel attendance at a public hearing on 25 March 2022.

1.10 As a result of Tamboran’s conduct, the committee has agreed to initiate a referral to the Senate Privileges Committee to face a possible contempt of Parliament, a finding of which could result in a maximum fine against the corporation of $25 000 under subsection 7(5) of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.

1.11 To date, the committee has not been afforded an opportunity to ask Tamboran about its joint venture project with Santos in the Beetaloo, Sweetpea’s registration in a notorious tax haven (Delaware) and any relationship that the companies might have with the Coalition Government.

The waiving of a Russian oligarch’s financial benefit under Australian sanctions law 1.12 On 18 March 2022, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, announced that Mr Viktor Vekselberg has been sanctioned under the

Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 (Autonomous Sanctions Act).3 Mr Vekselberg is a Russian billionaire who was sanctioned by the US Government in April 2018 through his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.4

3 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), ‘About Sanctions’, (accessed 7 March 2022).

4 US Department of the Treasury, ‘Treasury designates Russian oligarchs, officials and entities, in

response to worldwide malign activity’, 6 April 2018, (accessed 28 February 2022).


1.13 Mr Vekselberg—through his personal financial vehicle (Lamesa Holdings), owns a 16 per cent stake in Canadian-based Falcon Oil and Gas, whose fully owned subsidiary, Falcon Oil and Gas Australia (Falcon), is in a joint venture with Origin Energy Ltd (Origin Energy)—holds widespread interests in the Beetaloo sub-basin across three exploration permit areas.

1.14 In the words of Origin Energy’s Government Engagement Manager, Mr Tim O’Grady, Mr Vekselberg has a financial interest in that venture of approximately four per cent.5

1.15 When asked whether the transition from exploration to production stage would increase the value of Mr Vekselberg’s shareholdings, or the NT Government granting an asset in the form of permit, was in breach of Australia’s sanctions regime, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was unable to shed any light on the matter.

1.16 The department could not speak to ministerial communications on the sanctioning of Mr Vekselberg or what intergovernmental collaboration might have occurred.6 Nor could representatives confirm whether they had identified the assets of Mr Vekselberg: ‘there can be very complex business structures which make those things difficult’.7

1.17 International media reports suggest that the oligarch uses shell companies to conceal his assets, as shown in the case of his superyacht ‘Tango’ which was recently seized by Spanish and US authorities under international sanction laws.8

1.18 Despite not having clear answers for the committee on 25 March, on 12 April news media reported that Origin Energy has now received guidance from DFAT that the company is not currently in breach of Australia’s sanctions law, as Mr Vekselberg is not benefitting from any asset ‘tied to’ the Beetaloo joint venture.9

5 Mr Tim O’Grady, General Manager, Government Engagement, Origin Energy Ltd, Committee

Hansard, 25 March 2022, p. 3.

6 Mr Andrew Walter, First Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Legal Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 25 March 2022, pp. 14-15.

7 Mr Andrew Walter, First Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Legal Division, DFAT, Committee

Hansard, 25 March 2022, pp. 14-15.

8 See, for example: ‘Russian oligarch’s super yacht arrives in Turkish waters’, Al Jazeera, 16 April

2022, (accessed 22 April 2022).

9 See, for example: ‘Australia deems Origin not breaching sanctions on Russia at gas project’,

Reuters, 12 April 2022, (accessed 12 April 2022).


1.19 The committee has requested further information from DFAT regarding this position, but that information has not been provided. Given the pattern of behaviour from government Ministers benefiting gas companies, further exploration of why the government has waived Mr Vekselberg’s interests in the Beetaloo from Australia’s sanction regime requires further investigation.

1.20 The Australian Greens maintain that the committee must be allowed to properly examine the important matters that have been referred to it by the Senate, without interference and with the cooperation of the executive government, prior to concluding its report on this inquiry.

Referral to NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption 1.21 The Australian Greens note that some stakeholders questioned the degree of separation between Ministers, departments and the onshore gas industry, with evidence of donations, overseas trips and employment directly between

government and industry.10

1.22 Further, in this last week, during the caretaker period, news media reported that the NT Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security has been referred to the NT’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption for awarding a research contract to an organisation, the circumstances of which appear to be a deliberate attempt to avoid adverse research findings on an environmental risk that may delay or even prevent fracking in the Beetaloo.11

1.23 Both the Federal and NT Governments appear to be doing whatever it takes to open up this giant new gas field. In the 2022-23 Federal Budget alone, the Coalition Government committed $1.5 billion towards new petrochemical infrastructure at Middle Arm in Darwin Harbour,12 which would act as a guaranteed customer for Beetaloo gas.

1.24 In the Australian Greens’ view, decisions with a clear nexus to fracking in the Beetaloo—such as the contract decision by the NT Government—should be subject to scrutiny.

Announcement of a key bilateral agreement 1.25 The Australian Greens’ concern is exacerbated by a key development that occurred two days prior to the announcement of the Federal Election and the Australian Government entering into caretaker mode on 12 April 2022.

10 See, for example: Mr Dan Robins, Lock the Gate Alliance, Committee Hansard, 22 March 2022, p. 23.

11 S. Dick, ‘NT government referred to ICAC over its handling of fracking research contract in

Beetaloo Basin’, ABC News, 23 April 2022, (accessed 26 April 2022).

12 Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and

Regional Development, ‘2022-23 Budget delivers $7.1 billion to turbocharge our regions’, Media Release, 29 March 2022.


1.26 On 10 April the Coalition and NT Governments quietly signed the Commonwealth-Northern Territory Bilateral Energy and Emissions Reduction Agreement (Bilateral Agreement).13 The committee sought further information about this long-anticipated agreement throughout the inquiry but received very little information or updates from government departments.

1.27 The Bilateral Agreement is critical to understanding how the governments intend to avoid or offset the massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions that will be generated by shale gas developments in the Beetaloo.

1.28 The Australian Greens question the timing of this development that appears to have been calculated to avoid scrutiny during the election period, not only by the committee but also by various stakeholders in the Territory and nation-wide.

1.29 Concerns expressed to the committee show that there is a waning commitment to honour all 135 recommendations from the Pepper Inquiry, which was the promise made by the NT Government when it lifted its moratorium on fracking.

1.30 For example, Ms Alina Leikin, Special Counsel to the Environmental Defenders Office, contended that the NT Government has not properly or fully implemented a number of recommendations from the Pepper Inquiry:

[the NT] government…is not moving towards implementation quickly enough or seemingly at all. From our perspective, it seems to be an issue probably of political will… At this stage Pepper in its totality—and the recommendations were that every single one be implemented—doesn't look like it will ever be possible because a decision is being made at the federal level for the water trigger not to cover shale gas. I think the Pepper inquiry is used as a shield to say, 'It's going to be safe. All of the impacts on communities and the environment are going to be properly managed.' However, what we do know is that Pepper is never going to be implemented in full.14

1.31 The Beetaloo has the potential to increase Australia’s emissions by up to 13 per cent, with total lifecycle emissions up to double Australia’s entire current emissions.15 Viewing this in combination with the apparent abandonment of the NT Government to require gas companies to offset all lifecycle emissions, this inquiry must continue to scrutinise the roll-out of

13 Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, the Hon Michael Gunner MLA, Chief Minister of the

Northern Territory, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction and the Hon Eva Lawler MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Renewables and Energy and Minister for the Environment, ‘NT deal to deliver secure, reliable and affordable energy’, Joint Media Release, 12 April 2022.

14 Ms Alina Leikin, Special Counsel, Environmental Defenders Office, Committee Hansard,

22 March 2022, p. 63.

15 Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, Submission 6, Attachment 1, p. 5.


funding and other ‘in kind’ support from the federal and NT Governments into the 47th Parliament.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Chair


Additional comments by Senator McCarthy

1.1 I make these comments as a Traditional Owner, as stated in the Register of Senators’ Interests for the 46th Parliament:

The Northern Land Council records the following traditional interests in land in the Northern Territory held by Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.

Senator McCarthy is a traditional Aboriginal owner, as defined in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, of Vanderlin Island (Wurralibi Aboriginal Land Trust) and holds beneficial interests in the Narwinbi Aboriginal Land Trust ('Borroloola Commons') in the Northern Territory.

Senator McCarthy is second generation jungkayi ('custodian' for mother's country) for Wuyaliya country on Southwest Island (Wurralibi Aboriginal Land Trust).

Senator McCarthy is jungkayi for the emu dreaming and country called ngalamja which is on 7 Emus Station.1

1.2 I acknowledge the concerns held amongst First Nations communities about the potential for exploration and other activity occurring on our land. This concern is intrinsic to who we are, our identity and culture. As I said in my first speech to the Senate in 2016:

I am here today starting off with Yanyuwa, the language of my mother's families in Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria, nearly 1,000 kilometres south-east of Darwin. My families, they gave me this language, the language of my country. I am a woman whose spirit has come from the salt water, and we are known as li-antha wirriyarra, which means our spiritual origin comes from the sea—from the sea country. And I welcome my Kuku, John Bradley and Nona. Thank you. Bauji barra.

The old people would sing the kujika, the songline. They would follow the path of many kujika, the songlines, like the brolga, the kurdarraku, of my grandmother's country—the beautiful brolga country; the country where my spirit always returns to. They would sing of the shark dreaming, and how it travelled from Queensland all the way down the coast to the gulf country and out to the islands of my families. And we dance the dance of the mermaids, the ngardiji, the ngardiji kujika of the Gulf and Barkly country, linking so many of our first nations peoples.

I grew up with the old men and women, the marlbu and barrdi bardis, and I am here thinking about them now, and I am thinking about my own path. My road has been a long road like the song, the kujika, that belongs to the old people. And I am standing here in this place, the Australian Senate, in the place of the people, to represent not just my own people—

1 Senate, ‘Current Register of Senators' Interests 46th Parliament’, (accessed 8 February 2022).


the Yanyuwa, the Garrwa, the Mara and the Kudanji peoples—but to stand for all people of the Northern Territory…

In the eyes of first-nation's people, cultural exchange both amongst clan groups within Australia and with people outside Australia was a natural part of life well before Captain Cook arrived in 1788. There was already a thriving economic foreign trade occurring between Australia and with countries to our north. It is Aboriginal people who were the diplomats with foreign countries, the trading partners who shared knowledge and exchanged agriculture and marine sources of food and tools in the form of harpoons for hunting and knowledge of carving canoes to set sail in the unpredictable wet season seas. Only last month, in the landmark native title hearing in Borroloola, this diplomatic mission between the Yanyuwa and the Macassans was formally recognised in the Western system of law. The Federal Court recognised this relationship. Yet Aboriginal people have always had a system of governance here, and in Yanyuw we refer to it through the kujika…

When the Commonwealth parliament passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in 1976, it was the Yanyuwa people who stepped up to claim back our land. As a young girl, I watched my grandparents, my elders, as they prepared to give evidence about how the Yanyuwa cared for country, especially the islands north of Borroloola. They gave evidence in an old police station, and they could pretty much only speak in Yanyuwa. They were difficult times, and trying to give evidence was something that we had to continuously learn from. In that time, we found that we could not explain things as well as we would have liked to the Western understanding of Aboriginal culture.

It was to be another four decades of litigation—in Borroloola, in Darwin and in Melbourne. It was litigation that passed on to us, the Yanyuwa descendants, to continue to fight for recognition of who we are, li-antha wirriyarra, a people whose spiritual origin comes from the sea. But we did not walk that journey alone. It was only possible with the steadfast support of the Northern Land Council, and I acknowledge all those staff and council members over those 40 years who walked with my families.2

1.3 I am grateful that the Interim Report of August 2021 already includes some examination of the impacts that a shale gas industry would have on First Nations peoples, specifically the Traditional Owners of the Beetaloo. Several First Nations people—including Elders, community leaders, Traditional Owners and representative bodies—made submissions (verbal and written) and gave evidence to the inquiry, with these perspectives incorporated into that report.

1.4 Extracts from submissions and evidence included in the Interim Report help to grow the understanding of those outside the Northern Territory and our communities of how we experience existing mining and development, as well as our connection to Country and matters of importance including water,

2 Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senate Hansard, 14 September 2016, pp. 944-947.


which is a critical concern on Country, not just for drinking purposes but also for cultural and spiritual reasons.

1.5 At the Darwin public hearings in March 2022, the committee received further evidence from Traditional Owners in the Beetaloo region.

1.6 I note the committee received several invitations for on Country visits to see firsthand the impacts of gas exploration, and to hear how those impacts affect First Nations communities. Whilst regrettable for my colleagues that they were not able to take up those invitations due to the COVID-19 situation in the Northern Territory and the timeline for this inquiry, I express my personal gratitude to those who extended these invitations.

1.7 As Labor senators noted in our Additional Comments to the Interim Report, we acknowledge the efforts of the Northern Land Council (NLC) to inform and consult with a range of Traditional Owners and interests over a number of years, according to its statutory requirements under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and the Native Title Act 1993.

1.8 The Interim Report also noted the committee heard that, while the NLC has consulted in relation to proposals for shale gas exploration, a significant First Nations cohort does not consider that it has been properly consulted.

1.9 As we did in our comments at that time, I continue to urge that consideration be given to how the efforts of the NLC can be further supported to ensure even more rigorous consultation with affected Traditional Owners and Native Title interests.

1.10 In particular, at the public hearing in Darwin on 22 March, the NLC noted that it had not yet received a funding agreement for $2 million allocated in the 2021-22 Budget—almost twelve months previously.3 According to the government, this was to ‘build the capacity of the Northern Land Council to facilitate land use agreements and drive economic opportunities in the Beetaloo sub-basin’.4

1.11 The federal government’s inaction in delivering on this funding is another example of it being all promise but no delivery. Failing to promptly deliver this funding has not allowed the land council to ‘build its capacity’, as intended by the original budget measure, in preparation for increased negotiations with Native Title holders as the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program (BCD Program) continues to be rolled out.

3 Mr Greg McDonald, Branch Manager, Resources and Energy, Northern Land Council, Committee

Hansard, 22 March 2022, p. 14.

4 Budget Paper No 2, Budget Measures 2021-22,

22/bp2/download/bp2_2021-22.pdf (accessed 1 April 2022).


1.12 In my first speech, I also said:

It is time the Commonwealth encouraged more seriously the growth of the Northern Territory as perhaps the seventh state in the Australian Federation. Allow the people of the Northern Territory to fully make our own decisions, determine our own future, by engaging in a fair partnership so that we, who have won our lands back—nearly 50 per cent of the landmass—and the young people of the Territory feel they have solid employment, a future filled with shared prosperity and hope.5

1.13 In relation to the $50 million taxpayer funds committed under the BCD Program, the Interim Report also noted the committee heard and agrees that there are better ways to spend this money than developing a shale gas industry in the Beetaloo, but that circumstances have moved far beyond such a simple option.

1.14 I look forward to the committee further reporting on its examination of options to provide additional resources toward infrastructure and other projects for the betterment and advancement of First Nations people, as forecast in the Interim Report.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy Substitute Member

5 Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senate Hansard, 14 September 2016, p. 947.