Wednesday, 22 March 2023
Questions without Notice
First Nations Australians: Mining Industry
PE () (): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Indigenous Australians. A recent FOI exposed a dirty secret report to the National Indigenous Australians Agency that concluded traditional owners in the Beetaloo basin won't benefit economically, socially or culturally from fracking their country. It also stated that the traditional owners are at a clear disadvantage when negotiating with gas giants. How do you justify fracking the Beetaloo after these revelations?
I thank Senator Thorpe for the question. I understand Senator Thorpe's question relates to the report commissioned by the NIAA on Beetaloo, which was done under the previous government. The NIAA commissioned the Blueprint for Aboriginal benefits realisation in the Beetaloo region report in 2020. It was done by external consultants; they prepared the report. It doesn't constitute legal advice or represent the government's position.
We absolutely acknowledge that First Nations people's connection to their country is central to their spiritual, cultural, physical and economic wellbeing and that native title recognises First Nations people's pre-existing land and water rights and interests. We also recognise the importance of thorough consultation with First Nations people with the cultural authority to speak for country in line with principles of free, prior and informed consent. Land councils have those statutory responsibilities under law to consult with traditional owners and native title holders regarding activities on their traditional land. We are also taking action to ensure that the voices of First Nations people are heard and listened to, as we are through the Voice to parliament.
Specifically in relation to the Beetaloo basin, the Northern Land Council has statutory responsibilities under law to consult the traditional owners and native title holders regarding the activities on their traditional land and are committed to working with them. This includes support via the Australian government and those ongoing discussions.
Given the clear disadvantage of traditional owners when negotiating with these dirty gas giants and their almost-unanimous opposition to fracking—no free, prior and informed consent, I beg your pardon—will you withhold any fracking in the Beetaloo until and unless genuine consent has been obtained? If you have free, prior and informed consent, show us.
tor GALLAGHER (—) (): I think the issues of the Beetaloo basin really fall under the responsibility of the Northern Territory government through the arrangements they have and through the responsibilities they have via the territory laws, but the federal government remains open to working with any community on any issue where there are concerns. If the standard processes that have been put in place aren't working then of course the government would stand ready, able and willing to engage with them on any issue that they seek to raise.
The Commonwealth has specific responsibilities in relation to approvals for particular projects. I know this one has been controversial and I urge those that do have concerns—if Senator Thorpe has people that don't feel that they are being spoken for or are able to have their voice heard, I encourage her to encourage them to come forward. The Commonwealth remains committed to working in partnership with land councils, First Nations communities and the Northern Territory government to sort through any of the concerns that may exist, but, ultimately, the Commonwealth has a specific and set responsibilities in this area.