Zali Steggall raises concerns about Middle Arm Development

20 June 2023

I call the Member for Warringah. Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker. I’d like to raise my grievance with the government’s planned investment of $1.5 billion in the Middle Arm Development in the Northern Territory previously described as a new gas centre but now conveniently described by government as a sustainable development precinct.

This would have to be greenwashing at its finest. The Middle Arm precinct will be a major manufacturing centre for gas. The precinct is key to the Northern Territory’s ambition to develop its massive natural gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin and offshore. The original plans for the site had its primary focus on the expansion of Northern Territory’s gas industry. But now, conveniently, it's being sold as providing a pathway to a de-carbonised economy by helping emerging clean energy industries with petrochemicals, blue and green hydrogen minerals added to its purpose, but despite this, current plan is based on a massive expansion of the gas industry and relies on a yet to be designed carbon capture and storage plan located beyond Australia's jurisdiction in Timor-Leste's water.  To control a huge increase in the country’s emissions. Both sides of politics were lobbied in advance of the 2022 federal election by significant past members of the respective parties.

The Prime Minister committed to $1.5 billion in funding without any apparent current business case or independent assessment of the merit of such a large public investment during the course of the election campaign. It can only be inferred that the Prime Minister was prepared to commit to such a massive sum on the basis of prior lobbying. We know this announcement had already made by Prime Minister Morrison at the time, so it does beg the question of that level of lobbying, serious questions arise as to conflicts of interest and disclosures, of key players lobbying both sides of politics.  Conflicts of interest were raised under the Morrison government remain key under the Albanese government. The documents revealed by the Guardian this week, the individuals and entities driving Australia's fossil fuel expansion. They expose concerning reality where short term economic gains are being prioritised over long-term environment sustainability.

The key actors are people like Andrew Liveris, the architect of Scott Morrison's gas led recovery. The former Northern Territory Chief Minister Henderson, former Labor minister Simon Crean and former Liberal Minister Robert Hill. All deeply involved and have a strong vested interest in the expansion of the gas and petrochemical industries in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory government has also committed funding to this project with public funds committed to supporting Middle Arm now amounting to over $2 billion. That is in addition to the public funding through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility which has already given development of the Beetaloo Basin expression projects.

It's disheartening to witness influential figures from industry executives to politicians downplaying the urgency of transitioning to renewable energy sources and failing to recognise the irreversible damage caused by continued reliance on fossil fuels. And gas is a fossil fuel. And he very real danger of accelerating short-term global warming by the expansion of gas and consequentially methane emissions. We must confront the truth behind this expansion and demand transparency and accountability from both our government and corporate entities involved.

The business case and offsets have not been detailed by the government. Prior to committing such a substantial amount of public funds. Darwin's Middle Arm Development is key to the expansion of a number of fossil fuel projects. The anchor tenant for Middle Arm, and documents that have obtained under freedom of information, is Tamboran. Tamboran, and some may be aware, is a licensee holder for fracking for gas in the Beetaloo Basin. We know that is a methane bomb waiting to happen.  To blow out of the water all commitments in terms of emissions reduction and any chance of limiting warming. The emissions from expansion of this incident fossil fuel projects in the Beetaloo Basin and the Barossa gas fields must be accounted for in the business case. There is just no transparency arm's-length assessment that have occurred prior to these commitments of substantial amounts of public money.

The Repu Tex estimates that to offset the emissions of the Beetaloo alone, let’s assume for a minute these projects, this industry, gas, a mature technology, we know it makes the record profits through its export sales. And so the question around its own financial commitment and viability. So to offset its emissions, Beetaloo alone over a 20 year period will cost upwards of $22 billion, so why is it that we are putting public funds towards assisting these projects in getting up?  Public funds should not go towards these projects, gas is a mature sector, it is making obscene profits from war and record profits. And now we also have the government offering it a sweetheart deal of seven years before any royalties payable on the proposed PRRT. And yet here we are with the public purse proposing to pay $1.5 billion towards its key infrastructure.

Middle Arm, do not have any doubt, Middle Arm, is the key element to unlock the Beetaloo Basin because without it, without the public purse coming to build this infrastructure, Beetaloo Basin would not want to invest their own money. They would not do it.

So I call on the federal government and Northern Territory governments to disclose all the lobbying and conflicts of interest declared in relation to this reckless project and urgently disclose the business case, assessment and arm's length consideration prior to committing such large amounts, that was undertaken by the government prior to undertaking such a large amounts of public funding to fossil fuels. In fact I note that the Minister for Resources was asked in the House some weeks ago on whether Middle Arm would be for gas and she indicated that that was not the primary intention and yet the documents that come out in Freedom of Information show the anchor tenant is the export of gas from the Beetaloo Basin for Tamboran.

So, its urgent that this project, the Middle Arm project and Beetaloo Basin be considered within the context of a reformed Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act including critically an enhanced water trigger to consider shale fracking and its impact facilitating the expansion of gas exports and accelerating climate change and global warming. There is a strong questions around why for mature technology, public money is going to building infrastructure at a time of record debt, where we do not have a proper revenue for the Australian people for the resources where we know the vast majority of these gas will be for export, to vast profit to companies but not to the Australian people, why is the Australian public funding the key infrastructure?