24 August 2021: Tabling of Interim report into oil and gas exploration in the Beetaloo Basin

24 August 2021

Environment and Communications References Committee
Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:00): [by video link] I speak to the interim report of the Environment and Communications References Committee's inquiry into oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo basin, which has just been tabled in the Senate. There is $50 million of public moneys about which we have so many questions. This report has uncovered that, and you will see that in the recommendations. The recommendations centre around the concerns of transparency, accountability and openness and the fact that there are so many questions which still remain unanswered. There is the issue of $50 million, where $21 million has been provided to one company based on merit. It beggars belief that millions and millions of dollars can be given in such a way.

What we heard in this inquiry was important evidence from people who live in the Beetaloo region. These are people who matter. They are people who worry about their future, their livelihoods and their families. We heard from very many groups right across the Gulf of Carpentaria, across the Beetaloo and Barkly and right up to Arnhem Land. These concerns are very real. Witnesses gave evidence where they have not had the opportunity to do so before. These witnesses matter. We had a witness who comes from the Borroloola region and the Beetaloo region who now is in Dubai unable to get back to Australia. Her evidence spoke very strongly about the importance of being accepted as a traditional owner.

There were questions that we were also able to put to the Northern Land Council, which is responsible for looking for and talking with traditional owners—not to influence in any way their decisions but to ensure that they are aware of what it is that they're agreeing to or not agreeing to. These processes that we have seen took place back in 2011. Even then, families were unaware of what it was they were agreeing to. These were the statements that were coming from the older generation, and now they are coming from the younger generation of people who live in the region, in particular the First Nations people. The fact that $50 million could be so much better spent elsewhere was also an important piece of evidence that kept coming through time after time from witness after witness.

But perhaps one of the most important things is the role of the parliament and the role of the scrutiny it funds and the role of how money is given or gifted. That's the role of the Senate and this inquiry. Their role is to examine why it is that, when you have massive failures in the COVID vaccination of First Nations people and in closing the gap, in terms of First Nations people and health, $50 million can be provided to companies that do not have to meet any particular criteria, other than first come, first served. These are serious questions that this inquiry has to delve further into, and we'll continue to do so as we continue through to March. It's for these reasons that I would certainly encourage the Labor senators to consider that. There are too many things here that need to be answered. There is too much doubt. Allowing $50 million of funding that comes from public moneys and could go to other things to be given away has to be seriously considered.

I say to the witnesses who have given evidence so far: this inquiry will diligently continue on its path. This interim report is a very vital piece of information for the parliament, both the Senate and the House, to recognise how serious the concerns are in relation to this program in the Beetaloo. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.