Indigenous elders angered as Labor backs Santos gas plan: 'Stolen land'

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·Environment Editor
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Indigenous leaders have slammed Labor’s resources minister as "disrespectful" after she threw her support behind the controversial Narrabri gas development which they oppose.

Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore has urged Madeleine King to meet with her people, saying the project is a continuation of “exploitation of stolen land”.

“I’m feeling very angry about this. I’ve sent her a message asking her to speak with the Gomeroi people,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Polly Cutmore says no amount of money can compensate her for mining on Gomoroi land. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
Polly Cutmore says no amount of money can compensate her for mining on Gomoroi land. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

“She knows that we voted against it. She really needs to have a yarn.”

Ms Cutmore is referring to a 162 to 2 vote last April, in which the Gomerio Traditional Owners voted to oppose Santos’s plan to drill 850 coal seam gas wells across the Pilliga State Forest.

Despite Native Title and environmental decisions still pending, Ms Madeline King said on Wednesday she hoped the project would proceed.

“If Narrabri meets all the environmental standards, and by all accounts it does, then it makes sense for it to go ahead,” she told the Nine newspapers.

Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King (right) has backed Santos's controversial Narrabri gas project. Source: AAP
Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King (right) has backed Santos's controversial Narrabri gas project. Source: AAP

Traditional Owner Karra Kinchela said the Gomeroi people are awaiting the outcome of the Native Title Tribunal and Ms King should do the same and “be respectful”.

“There has been resistance to Santos’ project for more than a decade, and that’s not going to change just because Ms King wants it to,” she said.

“She’s underestimating the determination of groups who are opposed to the gas field if she thinks we’re just going to let Santos bulldoze the Pilliga.”

Read more about Santos's gas project

Labor backs Santos as Australia faces coal seam gas shortage

Ms King’s comments come as the new Labor government faces pressure to secure gas supply to the eastern states, which face supply shortages.

With close to three-quarters of Australia’s gas supply sent overseas, Santos has promised the Narrabri project would prioritise domestic supply.

Coal seam gas is a fossil fuel. Oil, coal, and coal seam gas are the biggest contributor to global emissions.

Labor has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, however climate scientists argue unless a stronger 2030 target is met, Australia will experience irreversible extreme weather impact.

Santos plan to drill hundreds of gas wells in the Pilliga State Forest. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
Santos plan to drill hundreds of gas wells in the Pilliga State Forest. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Coal seam gas was backed by the previous Coalition government as a transitional fuel, which could fill the gap until renewables were more widely available.

The election of a Labor government caused conservation groups including the Climate Council and Greenpeace to welcome the change, however they both have previously opposed Santos’s gas project.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has urged Labor to halt approvals of all new coal and gas projects, and an unprecedented number of independents were elected after they called for more ambitious emissions targets.

While many industry leaders around Narrabri back the development, because of the jobs it could bring to the region, a large number of farmers, environmentalists and Indigenous people oppose it.

Minister says she's 'always' supported Santos gas project

The minister did not respond to a question about Gomeroi elders criticising her for not meeting with them directly before she spoke with Nine newspapers, but a spokesperson issued a two-line statement.

"The Minister has always said she supports the project, provided it sacks up environmentally and commercially, and provided the project receives all of the required approvals," they said.

"That includes Native Title and environmental approvals."

Santos has been contacted for comment.

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