GOMEROI PEOPLE SAY NO TO AGREEMENT WITH SANTOS
Gomeroi People have strongly voted no to entering into an agreement with Santos over the Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga Forest.
The vote took place at a Gomeroi native title claim group meeting held at Tamworth from 22 to 25 March 2022.
The Gomeroi Applicant and Santos have been formally negotiating about the petroleum production lease applications for the Narrabri Gas Project since 2014.
In May 2021, Santos filed future act determination applications in the National Native Title Tribunal seeking a determination that the leases may be granted without the Gomeroi People’s consent and agreement to the Santos project.
In March 2022, Santos put an offer to the Gomeroi People, which sought their consent to the gas project in exchange for certain benefits. That offer has now been rejected by the Gomeroi People.
The Gomeroi Applicant, 18 Gomeroi People who make up a representative body of the native title claimants, spoke about the importance of the decision.
“The Gomeroi Applicant tried every avenue to come up with a fair and equitable deal with Santos that we could present to the Gomeroi Nation in good faith,” the applicant said.
“At the end of the day, the strong vote of the nation shows that the Gomeroi People did not think that Santos presented a fair agreement.”
“Santos’s proposed Project does not give us confidence that Santos will avoid damage to the Pilliga forest, or the Billaga as we say, and its cultural values.”
“The nation has voted, and we will do our best to protect the cultural and natural values of the Billaga.”
“We are fighting to protect the Billaga from climate change, for Gomeroi People and others as well.”
“In our view, there are no satisfactory measures in place to protect our Country. The Gomeroi People are very concerned that the Project will impact the Billaga’s waterways, and contaminate the Great Artesian Basin.”
The Gomeroi Applicant also commented on the inadequacies of the native title process.
“Unfortunately, the Native Title Act does not give us the right of veto for any activities on our traditional country,” the applicant said.
“We have cultural obligations to protect our country and our special places. That’s why the Gomeroi People voted so strongly against the agreement.”
“We know that, by going down this path and trying to protect our country, we run the risk of not getting any compensation at all from Santos. That’s the way the Native Title Act is.”
In the next stage of the process, a hearing in the National Native Title Tribunal will proceed before President Dowsett on 8 to 13 April 2022. Gomeroi People have filed evidence in the Tribunal about the spiritual and cultural significance of the Billaga Forest and the negative effects that may be caused by greenhouse gas emissions from the Narrabri Gas Project.
They have also filed evidence supporting the contention that Santos did not conduct the negotiations in good faith nor offer fair and reasonable compensation, and that Santos’s cultural heritage report and assessment was seriously inadequate.
Following the hearing, President Dowsett will determine whether the petroleum production leases can be granted to Santos.
Depending on the outcome, either Santos or the Gomeroi People may appeal the determination of the National Native Title Tribunal to the Federal Court.
The Commonwealth Attorney General may also overrule any determination by the Tribunal if she considers overruling the determination to be in the national interest or in the interest of NSW.