GUN­NER SAYS YES TO FRACKING

The La­bor Gov­ern­ment will to­day lift its on­shore shale gas ex­trac­tion ban, clear­ing the way for a vi­tal boost to the Ter­ri­tory’s econ­omy

NT News - - FRONT PAGE - MATT CUNNINGHAM and ASH­LEY MANICAROS

THE TER­RI­TORY Gov­ern­ment will to­day lift its mora­to­rium on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing of on­shore gas.

Chief Min­is­ter Michael Gun­ner will an­nounce the de­ci­sion this morn­ing, end­ing an 18-month stand­off over the con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice.

Mr Gun­ner’s of­fice re­fused to com­ment last night, but it’s un­der­stood Cab­i­net signed off on the fi­nal de­tails of its re­sponse yes­ter­day, fol­low­ing an in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific in­quiry into the prac­tice, bet­ter known as fracking.

That in­quiry, headed by Jus­tice Rachel Pep­per, found the risks as­so­ci­ated with fracking could be mit­i­gated, if not elim­i­nated, if the proper rec­om­men­da­tions were put in place.

It’s un­der­stood the Gov­ern­ment will im­ple­ment most, if not all, of the 135 rec­om­men­da­tions from Jus­tice Pep­per’s fi­nal re­port.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and some pas­toral­ists have run a strong cam­paign op­pos­ing fracking. They dis­agree with Jus­tice Pep­per’s as­sess­ment that the risks can be ef­fec­tively mit­i­gated, and have ar­gued fracking could pol­lute lo­cal rivers and bores.

Left-wing think tank The Aus­tralia In­sti­tute has also ar­gued the in­crease in green­house gases from fracking would be un­ac­cept­able, and that open­ing up new sources of fos­sil fu­els like shale gas is “com­pletely in­com­pat­i­ble with Aus­tralia’s com­mit­ments under the Paris Agree­ment”.

But the busi­ness com­mu­nity and min­ing com­pa­nies say the Gov­ern­ment can­not ig­nore the in­dus­try’s po­ten­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fits now Jus­tice Pep­per’s re­port has found the risks can be mit­i­gated or elim­i­nated.

MMC Aus­tralia gen­eral man­ager Owen Pike, who has led the pro-fracking cam­paign, said the de­ci­sion to lift the mora­to­rium would not im­me­di­ately in­ject cash into the econ­omy.

But he said it would give con­fi­dence that the econ­omy would re­cover and that the flat jobs mar­ket would turn around.

“Given the level of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion and fight from lo­cal busi­ness to get this in­dus­try here, a yes de­ci­sion al­lows lo­cal busi­ness to hon­ourably de­mand op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” he said.

Last week Je­mena, the com­pany build­ing the North­ern Gas Pipe­line be­tween Ten­nant Creek and Mt Isa, said it would be­gin work on a $4 bil­lion ex­pan­sion of the project as soon as next year if the mora­to­rium was lifted, pro­vided the re­stric­tions put in place still al­lowed gas re­serves in the Bee­taloo Basin to be de­vel­oped quickly.

That could be a ma­jor hic­cup though, as one of Jus­tice Pep­per’s rec­om­men­da­tions is that ex­plo­ration only be al­lowed to recom­mence once the reg­u­la­tions are in place.

To­day’s an­nounce­ment will also pro­vide a ma­jor boost for Mr Gun­ner’s lead­er­ship.

Mr Gun­ner and his chiefof-staff Alf Leonardi stared down mem­bers of La­bor’s Left fac­tion and pow­er­ful unions at the ALP’s 2016 con­fer­ence to pre­vent a per­ma­nent fracking ban be­ing put in place.

A com­pro­mise deal saw Mr Gun­ner agree to a mora­to­rium while Jus­tice Pep­per’s in­quiry was con­ducted.

The Chief Min­is­ter has since held firm de­spite ma­jor pres­sure from pow­er­ful unions, par­tic­u­larly the now-merged CFMEU and MUA.

Mr Gun­ner has con­sis­tently ar­gued his Gov­ern­ment would be guided by Jus­tice Pep­per’s re­port in de­cid­ing if fracking should be banned, or al­lowed under highly reg­u­lated cir­cum­stances in tightly pre­scribed ar­eas. Those tightly pre­scribed ar­eas are ex­pected to be an­nounced to­day.

To­day’s de­ci­sion should also give the Gov­ern­ment im­pe­tus to ar­gue it should re­ceive more fund­ing from the Com­mon­wealth.

Fed­eral Trea­surer Scott Mor­ri­son told the NT News last year the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment was ques­tion­ing whether the Ter­ri­tory’s GST should be low­ered in light of the fracking ban. But Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull last week an­nounced $5 bil­lion for an air­port rail link in Vic­to­ria, a state that has banned on­shore gas fracking.

Chief Min­is­ter Michael Gun­ner will an­nounce this morn­ing the lift­ing of a mora­to­rium on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing of on­shore gas

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