The Politics    Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Middle-finger development

By Rachel Withers

Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct on Darwin Harbour

Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct on Darwin Harbour.

Labor’s keen support for the pro-gas Middle Arm development in the NT runs counter to its sustainability claims

The Albanese government has today announced the advisory board for its new Net Zero Agency, with former climate minister and trade unionist Greg Combet leaving his role as chair of Industry Super to chair this one. The body, which will be charged with helping communities transition away from fossil-fuel industries, will be led by a who’s who of industry leaders, including economist Ross Garnaut, Australian Energy Regulator chief executive Anthea Harris, ClimateWorks Australia’s Anna Skarbek, Rio Tinto chief executive Kellie Parker, and union bosses Michele O’Neil and Tony Maher. There’s good news in the solar space, with the supply of panels soaring; Climate Energy Finance boss Tim Buckley says Australia must seize the occasion, calling on Labor to introduce a solar module production tax credit to secure our position in the global supply chain. The ACT is banking its cheapest wind power yet, as it moves to the next stage of the transition, while Queensland has budgeted $19 billion for the shift to renewables, using its pumped-up coal royalties. Why, then, is the federal government subsidising the dodgy Middle Arm development in Darwin, “a key enabler” for the export of gas, as an FOI recently revealed? And why is there so much secrecy around the project, with Labor last night voting with the Coalition to block an inquiry into it – one that was recommended in an earlier Senate inquiry and which Labor had agreed to? Why is the government openly gaslighting us, insisting this is a “sustainable” development, when it’s quite clear it is the exact opposite?

Questions are mounting about the Middle Arm precinct on Darwin Harbour, which is subsidised by $1.5 billion in federal funding. After Guardian Australia last month revealed that the federal government sees it as “a key enabler” for the export of gas – alarming crossbenchers – we last week learnt that gas company Tamboran Resources was one of five companies the Northern Territory had provided with land at the development, with the company announcing plans for an LNG plant to export fracked gas from the Beetaloo Basin. As anti-fracking group Frack Free NT told the ABC, taxpayer funds should not be used to subsidise gas. “Tamboran is a multinational company, with a billionaire backer,” said spokesperson Phil Scott. “There’s no way Australian taxpayer dollars should be used to support its polluting fracking plans.” Independent MP Monique Ryan questioned Labor’s claims that the $1.5 billion was not a fossil-fuel subsidy, while Zali Steggall said it “makes a mockery of any climate policy”. In recent days, the Australian Medical Association has spoken out about its fracking concerns, as paediatricians pleaded with the NT government to withdraw support for a full-scale fracking industry, citing direct and indirect health risks.

Now the government has voted with the Coalition to block a Senate inquiry into the Middle Arm development, going against the recommendations of an earlier inquiry. As Guardian Australia reports, Labor had previously indicated it would support the Beetaloo inquiry recommendations. But it voted down the Greens’ motion, arguing it was opposing a review because the project was at an early stage, with other assessments still ongoing (although why then, many are asking, are they “throwing billions at it no strings attached”?). Greens leader Adam Bandt is furious, tweeting that “Labor is using public money to fund more gas, while hiding it from scrutiny after previously backing an inquiry”. So too is GetUp chief executive and Widjabul Wia-bal woman Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, who says that the Albanese government “continue to let down traditional owners”. “It seems Labor has forgotten the mandate on which they were elected just over a year ago,” Baldwin-Roberts said. “They supported the Beetaloo inquiry and the recommendation that the Middle Arm gas hub undergo additional scrutiny just two months ago.”

What changed here? What does the Albanese government have to hide? Could it have anything to do with last week’s further FOIs, revealing it knew most of the wharves at the development would be used for gas export, and that briefing docs suggested that the gas industry stands to benefit? There are serious questions to be answered here, especially about that $1.5 billion subsidy. As ecologist Yung En Chee tweeted, there seems to be some confusion over whether the subsidy is to support hydrogen, which at-risk Macnamara MP Josh Burns claimed it was at a recent community forum. “Reckon #Macnamara voters’d welcome the scrutiny of a Senate Inquiry,” Chee added.

Labor has become extremely keen on gas since getting into government, carrying on the mantle of the Coalition’s “gas-led recovery” with gusto. The Albanese government can claim all it likes that Middle Arm is a “sustainable” development, and that its $1.5 billion stake is “not a subsidy for fossil fuels” – the sort of subsidy it promised ahead of the election it would not provide. But the FOIs make it clear the project has been greenwashed, while Labor’s refusal to have an inquiry confirms, in case it were not obvious, that we are being gaslit. So much for helping communities transition away from fossil-fuel industries.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen in the centre of the frame, walking past each other.

The empty centre

From border security to tax, the hollow centrism of the two-party system is destructive to the national interest

Image of Chris Bowen

Spin of omission

What is the point of a ministerial climate update that doesn’t mention our emissions are still rising?

Image of Clare O’Neil speaking and gesturing with an index finger

Do the right thing

It is time for Labor to stop acting like LNP-lite on immigration detention

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen seated opposite each other in Question Time. Albanese is smiling. Dutton has his back turned.

Dirty deals damage democracy

There isn’t much time to stop a bipartisan deal that many believe would entrench the two-party system

From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction