Jul 28th 2021

Liberal Senator insults Traditional Owners in astonishing fracking inquiry hearing

First Nations climate advocates and Traditional Owners have demanded Country Liberal Party Senator Sam McMahon apologise for her "bullying tactics" and "hostile questioning" when Empire Energy appeared before the Senate inquiry into fracking in the Beetaloo Basin this afternoon.

McMahon used her questioning time to claim that Traditional Owners' assertions were "untrue", that the results of the recent NT election showed there was not an "overwhelming opposition" to fracking in remote communities, and question whether First Nations people would be "worse off" if the McArthur River mine had not opened.

Further revelations also came to light about the extent of ties between Empire Energy and the Liberal Party. Under questioning from Senators, Empire Energy managing director Alex Underwood admitted Empire paid for Energy Minister Angus Taylor to attend a Country Liberal Party fundraising dinner in Darwin, as well as a chartered return flight between Darwin and Borroloola so Taylor could visit Empire drilling sites in the Beetaloo Basin.

Underwood admitted that Empire representatives met with Taylor in March, just days before the Federal Government's grants program to encourage drilling in the Basin opened for applications. Underwood also conceded that the three Empire drilling operations that have already been subsidised by grants do not yet have environmental approval from the Territory government.

GetUp First Nations Justice Campaign Director Larissa Baldwin said:

"After Sam McMahon's astonishing behaviour before the Senate today, one thing is clear: the Government can't be trusted to defend the lands and waters of the Beetaloo Basin from the fracking industry.

"The bullying tactics and hostile questioning Traditional Owners endured from McMahon is just more evidence that the Government will go to any lengths to protect their resource industry donors.

"Senator McMahon must apologise for her callous and insensitive remarks, and seriously consider whether she is able to contribute productively to these hearings. If she is going to bully and belittle Traditional Owners who are called to testify — and are the reason this inquiry was called for in the first place — there is no place for her in this Senate inquiry.

"The ties between Empire Energy and the Federal Government are shocking, but they're not surprising. We already know that Traditional Owners have not consented to fracking on their lands. Now Empire themselves have confirmed they paid for Energy Minister Angus Taylor to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser, and for him to fly to Borroloola to visit Empire drilling sites.

"We also learned that three of Empire's fracking projects received Federal Government grants before gaining environmental approval from the NT government.

"Today's hearing will sound alarm bells for Traditional Owners and First Nations people across the Beetaloo Basin — and it will make them even more determined to stop Empire Energy, or anyone else, from destroying the lands, waters, and sacred sites they have protected for tens of thousands of years."

Gudanji Traditional Owner Rikki Dank said:

"We have had no consultation whatsoever. We've been to community meetings, and we've told Empire that they had not had meetings with the rightful Traditional Owners, but that's as much consultation as we've had.

"We feel violated, and we don't feel listened to. My grandmother went out bush one day and there were trucks pulling onto country. She called me in tears, and confused as to what had happened. They've had men-only meetings to speak about women's country. This is absolutely devastating my family and the Borroloola region.

"If these companies come in and destroy our songlines, we won't have anything. We will not rest until we see this through."

Seed National Director Amelia Telford said:

"We frequently hear from Traditional Owners who have concerns about the process by which companies are claiming to have sought consent and the lack of information and explanation provided to them about drilling and hydraulic fracturing projects on their country.

"Traditional Owners cannot be considered to have been given free, prior and informed consent while they lack access to basic, unbiased information about fracking and all of its associated risks.

"Fracking could threaten the security and quality of water for communities across the Northern Territory, many of whom are already experiencing water contamination challenges. Many Traditional Owners are worried that the processes of drilling and hydraulic fracturing threaten sacred sites, including underground subterranean sites and songlines.

"We encourage the Committee to seriously consider the need to visit and hear directly from Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities across the Beetaloo and McArthur Basin regions."

Media contact: Alex McKinnon 0411 829 334


Larissa Baldwin, First Nations Justice Campaign Director at GetUp
Rikki Dank, Gudanji Traditional Owner
Amelia Telford, National Director at the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network