National Native Title Tribunal rules in favour of Santos.
On the evening of December 19, President Dowsett from the Native Title Tribunal handed down his ruling on Santos’ applications to over-ride Gomeroi rights for their Pilliga coal-seam gas project.
Dowsett ruled in favour of Santos, argued that the economic benefits from the mine outweighed Gomeroi rights and concerns:
"The Gomeroi applicant submitted that the proposed grants should not be made, asserting that the Narrabri Gas Project would result in grave and irreversible consequences for the Gomeroi People’s culture, lands and waters and would contribute to climate change. The Tribunal does not doubt that the Gomeroi applicant’s concerns are genuine. However, the Tribunal concluded that the Gomeroi applicant had failed to justify its assertions that the proposed grants would have such effect… the Tribunal concluded that the proposed grants would provide a public benefit, significantly outweighing the Gomeroi applicant’s concerns, particularly having regard to the limited and imprecise evidence provided in connection with such concerns."
Gomeroi have appealed this decision, with a hearing in the Federal Court expected in the coming months. The NSW government cannot issue Petroleum Production Leases to Santos to begin work on the planned 850 gas wells until the Native Title issue has been settled and there are no further appeals. However, Santos are planning a smaller-scale expansion of 10 new gas wells, under existing exploration leases and could start this work at any time.
Many Gomeroi people have spoken out against this decision and local Elders led a protest in Coonabarabran on January 14. Some news reports featuring Gomeroi responses:
Sydney Morning Herald - “Shameful Day for Australia”: Santos given green light to drill 850 gas wells in native forest https://www.smh.com.au/national/shameful-day-for-australia-santos-given-green-light-to-drill-850-gas-wells-in-native-forest-20221012-p5bpai.html
ABC: Gomeroi people file Native Title appeal against Santos Narrabri Gas Project, pipeline one step closer https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-18/native-title-appeal-complicates-santos-narrabri-gas-project/101863842
NITV: 10-year-old Tai wants to live in the Pilliga one day. Gomeroi Elders say a $3b gas project could destroy it.https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/dont-take-away-our-pilliga/euj0zspaa
Santos is preparing to start drilling new coal-seam gas wells in the Pilliga
Santos is aggressively pushing to begin construction of new coal-seam gas infrastructure in the Pilliga as soon as possible.
In a Field Development Plan, approved by the Department of Planning last week, Santos outlines intentions to drill ten new gas wells - six “pilot wells” and four “core holes” - as part of Phase 1 of the Pilliga (Narrabri) gas project.
Each of the ten wells will require clearing a hectare of bush. Further bush will need to be cleared to build or widen 6.82kms of roads and lay 14.16kms of new gas and water flow lines.
Drilling ten new wells is now possible following recent Department of Planning approval of Management Plans prepared by Santos, which the company claims will mitigate many of the risks identified by the Environment Impact Statement governing the project.
Because Phase 1 is classified as the “exploration and appraisal” phase of the project, Santos’ Field Development Plan states that the company can begin this work under existing exploration lease arrangements, rather than waiting for new production leases to be issued by the NSW government.
Production leases are still being held up in the Native Title Tribunal (NTT). The NTT has not yet passed judgement on Santos’ application, heard in April 2022, which seeks to over-ride Native Title rights and impose the leases without Gomeroi consent. Production leases will be necessary for Phase 2 of the project, which involves building infrastructure for up to 850 coal-seam gas wells.
Despite the “exploration” classification of Phase 1, Santos intends to use the pilot wells for gas production as soon as possible, with plans to feed gas to the Wilga Park power station near Narrabri.
The Management Plans indicate that the expansion will have a real impact on endangered ecological communities.
The Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Management Plan has been redacted and is not publicly available. However, limited information included in the Field Development Plan indicates that site surveys of the areas affected by the Phase 1 expansion have uncovered significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites. The Plan says:
“For all currently known sites, and for the most sensitive site types identified during the pre-clearance survey, complete avoidance will be applied… For other sites, avoidance will be maximised and where the site can not be avoided, artefacts may be relocated”. (page 48).
There are also significant risks of water contamination, with the complex of six pilot wells surrounding the Yellow Spring Creek, a tributary of Bohena Creek, which in turn feeds the Namoi River. Other new wells also threaten Bohena Creek, with one “core hole” planned close to a significant billabong that is part of Bohena.
Before any major work begins, Santos will need to provide two weeks notice to the Department and issue further paperwork with more specifics about their drilling plans. But with all Management Plans now approved, there is a real danger Santos will start this work in the Pilliga over summer.
All of Santos’ newly approved Management Plans are available on their website https://narrabrigasproject.com.au/about/environment/
The Field Development Plan, which contains maps of the location of new proposed coal-seam gas wells and related infrastructure can be downloaded from https://narrabrigasproject.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/2_Field-Development-Plan-Rev-0A_Redacted.pdf
By Padraic Gibson, Jumbunna Research, UTS
Huge union delegation supports Gomeroi rights against Santos First Nations and environmental destruction.
Media release Monday November 7 2022
Huge union delegation supports Gomeroi rights against Santos First Nations and environmental destruction.
The union movement has mobilised in solidarity with the Gomeroi people’s struggle against the climate-wrecking Pillaga/Narrabri coal seam gas mining operation on Gomeroi lands in the Pillaga forest.
A large gathering of unionists travelled to Coonabarabran on Saturday November 5, to stand in solidarity with the Gomeroi people demanding that Santos immediately withdraw the four “Future Acts Determination Applications” lodged with the Native Title Tribunal.
Gomeroi have never ceded sovereignty and given no consent to coal seam gas. They have cared for these lands and waters since time immemorial, fought to maintain connection despite violent, racist policies of exclusion and stood on the frontline of protests against destructive fossil fuel projects for generations. The union movement has come out in support of the Gomeroi people identifying that the struggles of First Nations people are the struggles of the union movement.
Unions supporting the Gomeroi solidarity delegation include, Unions NSW, The Maritime Union of Australia, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, NSW Teacher’s Federation, Australian Manufacturing Worker’s Union, Independent Education Union, National Tertiary Education Union, United Worker’s Union, the CFMEU and the Electrical Trades Union.
Unions NSW Assistant Secretary Vanessa Seagrove said, “We are proud as unions to stand alongside the Gomeroi People in their right to protect the Pilliga Forest. Unions NSW affiliates voted on Thursday night at the council meeting to commit support for the Gomeroi People and their land rights. This includes writing to the Federal and State Governments to withdraw any support for the 850 gas wells being proposed by Santos.”
“This weekend has shown me first-hand how important this land is culturally but also what this would do to the environment.’ It cannot go ahead and we will continue to fight alongside the Gomeroi People (as unions have done over many years) for as long as it takes” said Seagrove.
Paul Keating Sydney Branch Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia said, “Our union is committed to the ongoing struggle in support of the Gomeroi people against this project. Our support isn’t just moral support. We will continue to mobilise to overturn and reject this environmentally destructive project.”
“We are determined to not allow this project to succeed and have committed to ongoing solidarity and direct action, including blockades, involving our members and the entire trade union movement”, said Keating.
Damien Davis Frank Branch Secretary of the St Vincent’s Public Hospital Sydney said “As a member of the NSWNMA we stand proudly beside the Gomeroi people to help defend the health of this land. Health of country equals health of people and as a nurse it is our duty to advocate for the health of our planet so that future generations have clean water and clean air. I’m proud that the NSWNMA has voted to support the Gomeroi people and is committing to being on the ground, making sure this climate and health bomb doesn’t go ahead.”
AMWU NSW State President Keith Lang said, “The AMWU stands side by side with the Gomeroi people in their fight to preserve the Pilliga wilderness for future generations. The Artesian Basin cannot be compromised for capital profit.”
Tamworth based Country Organiser Katie Sullivan said, “Teachers, students and their communities here in the Pilliga, and across NSW will lose their homes, schools and livelihoods. NSW Teachers Federation are committed to supporting the Gomeroi Nation and rejecting Santos’s gas projects and any other projects that threaten to destroy our country here or anywhere else.”
Local Aboriginal community representative of the Gomeroi people of Coonabarabran Suellyn Tighe said, “First Nations people are used to promises. What we aren’t used to is follow through. It was a pleasant surprise to see the number of delegates representative of different unions travel to Coonabarabran to experience the beautiful Pillaga and to hear our voices and understand the concerns of the Gomeroi Nation.”
Instead of gas-fired dispossession, we urgently need to be strengthening First Nations rights and investing heavily in a just transition away from fossil fuels, with large-scale employment in renewable energy and sustainable development.
This project cannot be allowed to proceed. If the Native Title Tribunal will not defend Gomeroi rights, we pledge to support a fight that will stop Santos on the ground.
Santos vs Gomeroi in the Native Title Tribunal – report on the April inquiry
Over four days in April, the Native Title Tribunal (NTT) held an inquiry into a Future Acts Determination Application lodged by Santos. Santos is seeking permission from the NTT to over-ride Gomeroi rights and establish their Pilliga (Narrabri) Coal Seam Gas project.
Gomeroi people voted overwhelmingly at a recent Native Title meeting in Tamworth to reject a deal for compensation proposed by Santos. Because there is no Gomeroi consent, and Santos’ CSG operations would destroy or constrain the ability of Gomeroi to exercise Native Title rights in the affected areas, the Tribunal must provide authorisation before the NSW government can issue the mining leases Santos needs to seriously start work installing up to 850 gas wells. The NSW government is also a party to the hearing and consistently backed up Santos in advocating for the project to proceed.
The case is being heard by Justice John Dowsett, the President of the NTT.
In similar cases, the Tribunal has consistently ruled in favour of mining companies to the detriment of First Nations rights. However, the Tribunal does have the power to reject Santos’ application, which would effectively stop CSG in the Pilliga.
Most of the important arguments and information being considered by the Tribunal had already gone in as written submissions and were not discussed during the inquiry. However, a number of witnesses who provided affidavits both for the Santos case and the Gomeroi case were called for cross examination. This allowed people attending the public inquiry in Brisbane or tuning into the livestream an opportunity to understand many of the key issues being debated.
One key issue is climate change. In making his decision, President Dowsett needs to consider whether over-riding Native Title rights for Santos’ CSG project is in “the public interest”. That fact that mining is very important for the Australian economy is usually enough for the NTT to rule it in “the public interest”. For the first time in the history of the NTT considering whether to authorise a fossil fuel project, however, Gomeroi representatives are arguing that this development will have “devastating consequences for Australia” due to the destructive impact it will have on the climate, and so it should not be allowed to proceed.
During cross-examination, Santos employee Todd Dunn was asked a number of questions about the impact of the project on climate change and the increasingly catastrophic impact that climate change is having on life in Australia.
While Mr Dunn was happy to admit that the Santos project would create a large volume of greenhouse gas emissions, he refused to concede that this would contribute to climate change, saying “I don’t agree that the Narrabri gas project will exacerbate climate change”. Indeed, Mr Dunn asserted Santos’ position that the project will actually be good for the climate, on the basis that gas can help transition away from more carbon intensive coal-fired power. Santos is also claiming their operations in the Pilliga will be “net zero” by 2040, but provided no explanation as to how this would be achieved. Current project approvals provide no obligations on Santos to achieve “net zero”.
Professor Will Steffen, a climate change expert and researcher at ANU, appeared as a witness for Gomeroi and directly countered many of the claims made by Mr Dunn. Mr Steffen explained that gas operations can lead to a large methane emissions, along with the huge carbon emissions that come from using gas from energy. Mr Steffen argued that the current global scientific consensus is that the world cannot afford any new fossil fuel projects if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. Santos’ project can not be in “the public interest” - because it will drive more destructive fire, floods, heatwaves etc.
President Dowsett made a number of comments throughout the inquiry that indicated he is hesitant to make any assessment about the climate impact of the project, pointing out that already completed processes such as the Independent Planning Commission approval in 2020 have already ruled in favour of Santos on this issue. However, legal representatives for the Gomeroi insisted that the NTT process is a separate one, weighing up different interests, and that the climate impact of the project should be assessed to be not in the “public interest” for the purposes of over-riding Native Title. Whatever way Dowsett rules will have big implications for the whole Native Title system in the climate-change era.
Another one of the arguments being made by Gomeroi in court is that Santos failed to negotiate “in good faith”. One of the main reasons Gomeori allege bad faith is that Santos have engaged in racial discrimination. Gomeroi representatives argued that the company has failed to treat Gomeroi on an equal footing with farmers whose land is within the project area. Back in 2014, when the gas push in NSW was really starting, Santos and another gas company AGL did a deal with major non-Indigenous farmer and land-owner organisations, where they promised that if any farmer did not want to allow gas drilling on their land that would be respected. They would only go onto lands where farmers agreed and wanted to be paid compensation for allowing gas drilling.
This same deal has never been offered to Gomeroi. Santos have refused to accept the strong position from Gomeroi of no gas mining on the Native Title claim area. Santos representatives made a number of offensive arguments in court, saying that they should have no real obligation to Gomeroi because, unlike some groups in Northern Australia, Gomeroi can’t claim exclusive Native Title because Gomeori connections to the land are – according to Santos – not is as strong. Their barrister argued, “you can’t really consider the Gomeroi to be owners of the land”.
There are many other issues being considered in the inquiry that will bear upon the final decision as to whether Santos have negotiated “in good faith”, including the quality of the financial compensation that Santos have offered to Gomeroi and the quality of the Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Management Plan. It is clear from the whole tone of the inquiry, however, that the Native Title system is set up to service the interests of mining companies like Santos. It was reiterated many times that Native Title does not offer a “veto” to Gomeroi and Santos should be able to expect that their project will proceed. No Gomeroi were called to speak to the Tribunal. Indeed, apart from the barrister representing the Gomeroi, Tony McAvoy, the Tribunal only heard from non-Indigenous people arguing about the future of Indigenous lands.
Gomeroi and Santos have headed back to mediation this week. If they cannot come up with an agreement, the case will return to the NTT for judgement. This could happen quickly and with very little notice. If the Tribunal will not defend Gomeroi interests we need to be ready to step up the campaign and stop this disgraceful gas-fired dispossession. A key pressure point will be demanding that the NSW government refuses to issue the mining leases to Santos, despite the authorisation of the Tribunal.
By Padraic Gibson, Jumbunna Institute, UTS
Protest April 8 when Santos takes Gomeroi people to court.
Rally Friday April 8 2022, 12pm
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 Street, 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.
Official Media Release from the Gomeroi Native Title Applicant, issued by NTS Corp.
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.
MUA join in solidarity with Gomeroi people to oppose Pilliga CSG
Media Release 28 March 2022
MARITIME UNION AUSTRALIA – NATIONAL INDIGENOUS OFFICER
MARITIME UNION AUSTRALIA – SYDNEY BRANCH SECRETARY
28 MARCH 2022
MARITIME UNION JOINS IN SOLIDARITY WITH GOMEROI PEOPLE TO OPPOSE PILLIGA CSG
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.