Frack-Free NT campaign scores victory at ALP conference

Issue 

With scores of anti-fracking protesters outside, the Australian Labor Party Northern Territory conference voted on February 13 to approve a moratorium on any development of the fracking industry while critical scientific studies on its impacts are carried out.

NT Labor leader Michael Gunner was quoted in the February 15 Rural Weekly as saying: "The length of our moratorium will depend on how long it takes to do genuine consultation and a thorough independent scientific review.

"We are currently doing the work on how long that will be and Territorians will have that answer before the next election."

This is seen as a victory for the anti-fracking campaign, which has worked hard to educate and mobilise the NT community. More than 90% of the Territory is now under application to explore for opportunities to frack.

The moratorium is seen as a shift in Territory Labor's thinking, driven by strong campaigning and public concern. The NT News reported on February 11 that 84% of Darwin residents were concerned about the development of fracking in the NT and 70% supported a ban until the impacts of fracking were studied.

Don't Frack the Territory has mobilised rural communities, pastoralists and Aboriginal communities worried about the harmful impacts of fracking on groundwater, sacred sites and tourist attractions.

This seems to have paid off.

But Don't Frack the Territory campaigner Lauren Mellor was cautious about the success of the campaign. She said: "We welcome the shift in Labor's thinking on the issue but we really want them to commit to a timeframe.

"The advice from independent scientists who are monitoring groundwater changes and public health studies about the impact of fracking in other states, is that five years is the timeframe you would need to understand the overall impacts of the industry."

The ruling Country Liberal Party government remains committed to expanding fracking in the NT. It has approved an $800 million pipeline connecting Tennant Creek to Mt Isa to transport fracked natural gas for export. It has also run extensive ads in the NT News promoting the benefits of gas expansion in the NT.

The CLP is a minority government, losing its majority over the years as four of its members drifted away to become independents. The fixed terms in the NT mean that it can continue to govern until new elections are held on August 27.

Polling from this time last year suggests a wipe-out for the CLP at that election, leaving the future of fracking in the ALP's hands from then on.

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