The Buy Local Advocate’s referral (available here) of a fracking research contract to the Territory’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption exposes how the Gunner Government is prepared to sideline science that doesn’t back the controversial industry, says Protect Country Alliance.
The Buy Local Advocate has referred to the ICAC the granting of a contract to complete stage two of the Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment scientific studies - a core element of the Pepper Inquiry - to Western Australian company Biota, after Charles Darwin University, which completed stage one, was dropped from the second contract at the 11th hour.
The final contract to Biota was offered at $287,991 - more than $130,000 more than CDU’s contract was worth before it was terminated. The Buy Local Advocate also said that of Biota’s contract value, only $4,500 was expected to “remain in the NT”.
Protect Country Alliance is not suggesting Biota was not suitably qualified to undertake the work specified in the contract.
The referral by the Buy Local Advocate also suggests the Territory’s Environment Department (DEPWS) dropped the CDU research team due to comments made in the media about how the fracking industry could threaten groundwater and newly discovered aquatic organisms known as stygofauna, first identified in stage one of the SREBA study.
However, the referral also says the Buy Local Advocate could find “no evidence” DEPWS attempted to discuss its concerns with the researcher before the contract was dropped.
Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the referral showed the NT Gunner Government was willing to ignore science and its own “Buy Local” policies in favour of the fracking industry.
“The Gunner Government didn’t like the research from the CDU team because it raised uncomfortable issues for a government that is hell for leather pushing the fracking industry onto Territorians,” he said.
“But that’s not how science works - you don’t get to shop around when the research doesn’t go your way.
“The Gunner Government should have hit pause on the fracking industry when CDU’s first SREBA studies showed the very real threat fracking poses to the NT’s groundwater - groundwater that is relied on not just by unique aquatic organisms, but by communities, cattle stations, and other businesses all over the Top End.
“The NT Gunner Government is failing to properly regulate this industry and is failing Territorians in relation to implementing the Pepper recommendations. Now we can see the lengths the government will go to to hide the reality of the dangers fracking poses to our groundwater.
“We warmly welcome the Buy Local Advocate’s referral of this scandalous contract debacle to the NT’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, and we hope justice is served.
“We’re now calling for an immediate halt to any further fracking exploration approvals. The NT Gunner Government’s gas policy is in tatters. It has unequivocally failed to properly implement the Fracking Inquiry recommendations and is now facing a referral to the ICAC.”
The NT Government’s “Buy Local Plan” says it “is intended to give local businesses greater opportunity to tender for and win government work. It is meant to ensure the largest proportion possible of every dollar spent by government stays in the Territory”.