Gomeroi Nation vote NO to agreement with Santos on Pilliga coal-seam gas, campaigners call for solidarity

The Gomeroi Nation have voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal from Santos at a historic Native Title meeting in Tamworth on 25th March 2022.

Gomeroi campaigners who attended the meeting are calling for solidarity from non-Indigenous people, to ensure this vote is respected and Santos abandon their coal-seam gas plans in the region.

Santos is seeking an agreement with Gomeroi to establish the Pilliga (Narrabri) coal-seam gas project, which would see 850 coal-seam gas wells in the Pilliga forest.

The lands targeted by Santos are subject to a registered Native Title claim by Gomeroi people. This means Santos either need an agreement with Gomeroi to progress their project, or sanction from the Native Title Tribunal to over-ride Gomeroi rights.

Gomeroi are calling on Santos to immediately withdraw an application currently before the Tribunal, which seeks permission to proceed with the project despite this vote.

Gomeroi people who have participated in the meeting have made the following public statements. Below are just some of many Gomeroi voices who have loudly said NO and must be heard.

A protest is being planned outside the Federal Court in Sydney on Friday 8th of April 2022, during the upcoming hearing, calling on Santos to withdraw the application and all levels of government to withdraw their support for Santos and respect Gomeroi rights.

Official Media Release from the Gomeroi Native Title Applicant, issued by NTS Corp.

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.

MUA join in solidarity with Gomeroi people to oppose Pilliga CSG

Media Release 28 March 2022



28 MARCH 2022


The Maritime Union of Australia has reaffirmed its support and solidarity with First Nations people throughout Australia by standing beside the Gomeroi people in opposition to coal seam gas in the Pilliga.

A Gomeroi Nations meeting was held last week in Tamworth to discuss a proposal from gas giant Santos to sink 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga. The plan was almost unanimously opposed and the Union calls on gas giant Santos to respect the outcome of the vote and withdraw their plans to mine the Pilliga.

Members of the MUA rank and file met with Gomeroi people in Tamworth in the lead up to the vote, to express their steadfast support for the Gomeroi Nation’s right to oppose the Santos proposal.

Just as First Nations people should not have to negotiate with multinational gas corporations for jobs and basic services or trade away their lands and the health of the environment in order to receive them, regional and rural communities deserve public investment in sustainable employment and infrastructure that delivers training and transition opportunities for workers in the extractive industries to secure new sustainable jobs to avert a climate catastrophe.

“It’s clear from the Gomeroi Nations meeting that there is overwhelming opposition to the proposed 850 coal seam gas wells on their country. This is reflected in the almost unanimous vote against the proposal,” said Natalie Wasley, a member of the MUA’s Sydney Branch. “As well as the MUA, a number of other unions have also endorsed a statement supporting Gomeroi. We will continue to grow this supportive network and stand with the community through this whole process”, Ms Wasley added.

The MUA understands that Santos has lodged a "Future Acts Determination Application" to the Native Title Tribunal, to push ahead despite the outcome of the democratic vote. This demonstrates how little regard Santos has for Gomeroi people and their rights to land and self-determination. Santos lodged the application before the Gomeroi meeting, which also shows the ease with which proponents are able to overturn Native Title holders’ opposition to objectionable land use proposals.

“It’s a disgrace how little control the Native Title system gives Aboriginal people over their land. We will work hard to ensure the resounding ‘no’ vote is respected and that Santos' plan to desecrate the Pilliga is defeated,” Ms Wasley said.

“Gomeroi have taken a principled stand that should be respected amidst the worsening climate emergency. I was very proud to stand with Gomeroi people and spend time on their country to see their strength in action. Gomeroi Ngaarr- Gomeroi Strong!”, Ms Wasley said.

The MUA's National Indigenous Officer, Thomas Mayor said, “Now that the Gomeroi have rejected Santos’s proposal, I am confident the rest of the union movement will stand with the Gomeroi as we have. The fundamental issue here is that the rights of the Gomeroi should be respected”.

“Santos must listen to the rightful owners of the land, the Gomeroi people. In their language, ‘gamil’ means ‘no’ - and the MUA says gamil too,” Mr Mayor said.

The Maritime Union’s Sydney branch secretary, Paul Keating, reaffirmed the union’s solidarity with First Nations people and supported the position adopted by the MUA’s rank and file membership in opposing Santos’ plans.

“This land belongs to the Gomeroi people and our union stands with them in defiance of this massive corporation seeking to sidestep their rights in pursuit of shareholder profits, Mr Keating said. "This fundamentally is about sovereignty of First Nations peoples,” he added.

“The fact that Santos is seeking to extinguish Native Title and force this project demonstrates the injustices within the Native Title system, so we are standing alongside the Gomeroi people in this fight. If Santos won’t respect the outcome of this democratic vote, then government must intervene to ensure this CSG proposal doesn’t go ahead,” Mr Keating said.

Protest April 8 when Santos takes Gomeroi people to court.

Stop gas-fired dispossession - Stand with Gomeroi against Santos, Perrottet and Morrison - Climate Justice now!

Rally Friday April 8 2022, 12pm
Federal Court of Australia, 184 Phillip st Sydney
Join and share the Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/512140653600150

On 25th March, the Gomeroi Nation voted overwhelmingly at a meeting in Tamworth to reject Santos’ proposal to accept the Pilliga (Narrabri) gas project and surrender their Native Title rights in exchange for a package of benefits. The Gomeroi bravely said an unequivocal NO to Santos’ attempt to sacrifice their Country for corporate profit and an unnecessary, climate-killing gas project.

Now Santos plan to push ahead with an application in the Native Title Tribunal to over-ride Gomeroi rights and impose the project regardless. On Friday April 8, when the hearing begins, Gomeroi leaders, trade union representatives, climate groups and others will stand in solidarity against this disgusting attack on the climate and the rights of First Nations. Come along and take a stand for justice. Please join and share the Facebook event.