62 community leaders warn federal MP is 'not welcome' in their towns

Indigenous leaders allege Resources Minister Madeleine King did not adequately consult with them prior to her fossil fuel expansion announcement

Left - Madeleine King talking into a microphone. Inset - a list of names.
Sixty-two Indigenous leaders from regional towns in the Torres Strait and cities including Melbourne, Perth and Darwin have said Madeleine King (right) is "not welcome" without consultation with their communities. Source: AAP

A controversial plan to expand gas drilling during the climate crisis has triggered an uproar among First Nations communities, farmers, and within the Labor Party itself.

Alleging there was a lack of consultation prior to the release of the Albanese Government's Future Gas Strategy, Indigenous leaders have signed a declaration telling its architect Resources Minister Madeleine King she is “not welcome” in the dozens of towns and cities they want to protect from drilling.

Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore told Yahoo News the united statement from 62 community leaders from around Australia was just the beginning in their fight against Labor’s gas plan. “We’re coming together,” she said on Friday morning.

King’s gas plan has also sparked a rebellion within the Labor Party itself – six backbenchers told the ABC it took them by surprise. "I feel like I was blindsided by this announcement and would have preferred more consultation," Labor MP for Higgins Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah told the broadcaster.

Many of the MPs are in left-leaning seats which could be threatened at the next election by the Greens - a party that advocates for a ban of all new fossil fuel projects in Australia – a message that aligns with warnings from the United Nations Secretary-General that doing so is necessary to avoid the “worst of climate chaos”

The Greens responded to the gas announcement by accusing Labor of having “slammed its foot on the gas” and “thrown any climate credibility out the window”. Its environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said, “They’ve utterly caved in to the fossil fuel lobby. Labor simply can’t be trusted on climate and the environment”.

Related: Concern after Albanese's coal decision: 'Fearful for my kids'

Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore (left) and Resources Minister Madeleine King with Anthony Albanese.
Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore urged Resources Minister Madeleine King (right) to meet with her in June 2022. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / AAP

King’s office was contacted for comment on Thursday by Yahoo News after Cutmore told this publication she had felt “disrespected” by the minister during an interview with the ABC - but it is yet to receive a response. She accused King of not taking up offers to meet with Gomeroi elders since she was elected to office two years ago – something Cutmore sees as a snub.

Cutmore initiated the declaration — that King is not welcome in the dozens of communities that don't want any more gas projects — at the Common Threads Indigenous conference on Thursday. It has been signed by the 62 Traditional Owners from across Australia, declaring King would need to seek consent from them if she wants to enter their communities.

Frustrated leaders accused the Resources Minister of formulating her party’s Future Gas Strategy without consulting the Indigenous communities whose land would be exploited for its reserves of methane — a gas more than 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

“Without proper consultation and free, prior and informed consent, Minister King is not welcome in our communities,” the declaration warns.

While Australia continues to suffer from gas shortages and high energy bills, Australia allows energy companies to profit by exporting approximately 80 per cent of the fossil fuel overseas. In the declaration, the Indigenous leaders call on the government to “shift from prioritising the export industry over the people”.

“Our lore as First Nations people must be respected. To us, air and water rights are fundamental and exist concurrently with our human rights,” it continues.

Don McKenzie and his dog on his Coonamble property.
Don McKenzie called expansion of gas drilling "madness". Source: Michael Dahlstrom

King has been a vocal supporter of the gas industry, controversially celebrating the industry’s export achievements with the Prime Minister on April 19, the same day the Great Barrier Reef was declared to be experiencing record coral bleaching due in part to climate change.

In a statement that coincided with the release of the Future Gas Strategy on Thursday, King said the fossil fuel was essential and there was a need for continued exploration, investment and development.

“The Strategy makes it clear that gas will remain an important source of energy through to 2050 and beyond, and its uses will change as we improve industrial energy efficiency, firm renewables, and reduce emissions,” she said.

Don McKenzie, a farmer in the northern NSW town of Coonamble has been fighting gas drilling for over a decade. He told Yahoo the government's renewed support for the gas industry is "terribly worrying". He warned there was no way the government could limit the worst impact of climate change if it continues to expand gas drilling.

"It's pretty clear that what the problem is these days is the gas industry has so many people entrenched in the halls of bureaucracy that we've got no chance," he alleged.

When it comes to politics in general he believes, "It doesn't matter what anyone says, the gas industry has the politicians buy the nuts. They just squeeze and say, we want this and they get it."

The Albanese government’s gas announcement was one of several that focused on regional Australia this week. The Prime Minister was spotted trading the comforts of his home city of Sydney for Rockhampton, where he joined King and donned a 10 gallon hat, embracing his inner cowboy at Beef Week 2024.

Anthony Albanese (right) joined Madeleine King (right) at Beef Week in Rockhampton where he announced new money to help farmers fight climate change. Source: Madeleine King
Anthony Albanese (right) joined Madeleine King (right) at Beef Week in Rockhampton where he announced new money to help farmers fight climate change. Source: Madeleine King

And while he appeared to be clearly enjoying himself, he was also there for serious business, telling farmers he was taking the impact of climate change seriously. And to prove it he announced the budget would include an investment of more than $500 million for the Future Drought Fund.

In an opinion piece that coincided with the event he acknowledged climate change is already impacting food production and profitability.

“Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and severe, whether it be floods, or droughts, or cyclones,” he wrote in an article first published in the Courier Mail. “We want to help farmers and regional communities to prepare for the next drought. We have to help build climate resilience.”

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