After nearly 12 months of negotiations, a fundamental recommendation of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing will come into force.
The Northern Territory Government, Chief Minister Michael Gunner, Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison and the previous Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby should be warmly congratulated for what has been delivered.
All of them have remained steadfast in their commitment to ensure the power imbalance between land holder pastoralists and gas companies is corrected.
The regulations will be the best in the country. No land access agreement and there will be no land access. Built within the regulations are mechanisms for dispute resolution giving encouragement for middle ground to be found.
More importantly there are rules regarding compensation for the disruption which will occur to our multimillion-dollar cattle operations.
The regulations merely set out the ground rules for engagement. There will need to be a genuine recognition free of the shiny glossy marketing about job creation, which has captured the front pages of newspapers and the content of politician’s and industry leader speeches from the Prime Minister down in regard to what onshore gas development will actually deliver.
When it comes to how onshore gas is developed then attitude will be the little thing that makes a big difference to steal a quote from war-time British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The agriculture sector, and in particular the beef industry in the Territory, is not a small business. It is big business. It is a $1.2 billion industry, which employs 10,000 people directly and indirectly and did not take a backward step during the global pandemic. Employment grew by 3.5 percent when all other industries were constricting.
And in the interests of consumers, both domestic and international, it had to. Never has food security been such a priority for Australians. And never has agriculture in this country stood taller than during 2020. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling’s poem If: “Industry kept its head ‘when all about us (others) were losing theirs…’
Onshore gas development brings with it a series of biosecurity and environmental challenges that must be addressed. There are already more than 40 weeds listed in the NT and with highly invasive weeds such as parthenium and Siam Weed here we cannot afford to lose control of the battle. A paddock with parthenium can be fenced and quarantined from use for up to seven years.
There will be increased pressure on current road infrastructure. Put simply, there cannot be a delay or gap between the rhetoric of what onshore gas may deliver and the spending putting in place the infrastructure to protect everyone else from the impacts of development – whether that is better roads or washdown bays for biosecurity integrity.
Social licence will not just be talked about, but it will need to be demonstrated. The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association battled hard for the power imbalance of land access to be corrected. The regulations set in place a minimum set of standards.
From January next year pastoralists will be seeking the same power imbalance to be corrected with the mining sector. This is not about over regulation but about certainty.
It will ensure that both landholder and mining company know the rules and engage in such a way as to minimise disruption all round. The Northern Territory Government is reviewing how it will move environmental approvals for mines across to the Department of Environment just as it has with onshore gas.
It makes perfect sense to incorporate land access into those legislative changes – we now have a template to work from.