Reinvented ‘indigenous’ culture is crushing Australia and its people. Who will take steps to curb the power and land grab?
Peter Purcell, 7th December 2023
Environmental activist groups funded by the Federal government — the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) — for example or by like-minded philanthropists (Sunrise Project) are exploiting Aboriginal heritage issues in their campaigns to stop all oil and gas projects in Australia. The Scarborough and Barossa gasfields, offshore WA and NT respectively, are the current battlegrounds. The strategy is to mount legal challenges to government approval processes, often just prior to the commencement of work, thereby causing maximum disruption and financial loss to the company. The challenge is invariably based on claims that the company did not consult adequately with the Aboriginal clients whose ‘sacred sites’ are under threat of destruction, with the risk of physical and spiritual harm, even death, to the community. Such claims attract considerable support from the public and the judiciary.
The weaponising of sacred sites to stop exploration and development projects in Australia is not a new phenomenon. The Hindmarsh Island conflict in South Australia and the Noonkanbah confrontation in northern WA are well known examples dating from nearly 50 years ago. At Hindmarsh, the site itself was a fabrication; at Noonkanbah, the P Hill site was part of mythology of earlier tribal occupants of the area but the claim of a ‘sacred sphere of influence’ around it by the contemporary Aboriginal occupants was part of an elaborate ruse to prevent oil exploration drilling.
The current assault on the Barossa gasfield is an escalation of the battle, as regards both weaponry and target. Barossa is a giant gasfield and its development, coming at a time of worsening domestic gas supply problems and rising energy costs, is of national importance. It will also supply energy to Asian markets and contribute billions to the Australian economy. The cost of the delay could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars; the cost of the project’s cancellation would be billions. The opposition’s weaponry is not simply a ‘sacred’ feature onshore but the cultural heritage of the ocean itself, the so-called “Sea Country”, and features on a seafloor that has been submerged for thousands of years but are recalled by memories drawn from ‘deep time’. It is a contest that deserves close scrutiny by Australians because it affects not only the national economy but also the national identity.
The Barossa gasfield was discovered in 2005 about 150 kilometres north of the Tiwi Islands, near Darwin, by US company ConocoPhillips and its partners, Australian company Santos and Korean conglomerate SK E&S. Barossa contains about five trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 15 million barrels of condensate. The 16 per cent of carbon dioxide in the natural gas deposit has led to special condemnation by environmental and climate activist groups who are not deterred by the fact that the CO2 will be diverted to the depleted Bayu Undan Gasfield to the southwest and sequestered there in deep secure reservoirs. The natural gas will be delivered to the Darwin liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facility by a 260km pipeline that passes near the Tiwi Islands and joins the existing Bayu Undan Gasfield-Darwin pipeline. Santos became project operator in October 2019 after purchasing ConocoPhillips’ interests and now holds a 50 per cent interest, having sold 12.5 per cent to JERA, Japan’s largest power generation company in 2022.