ABC: Senate inquiry into the Middle Arm Industrial Hub begins in Darwin today. Here's what to expect

April 10, 2024 1:55 PM

Since the federal government committed $1.5 billion to the Middle Arm Industrial Hub it's been hailed as "the answer to some of the country's biggest questions" and slammed as a "climate policy gamble". 

Political critics have been called "trolls" and "knockers and blockers" by the NT government for standing in the way of the proposed development. 

Environmental groups, meanwhile, have criticised the project as an "extraordinary fossil fuel subsidy".

From today, Middle Arm will face two days of scrutiny and interrogation in public hearings as part of a Senate inquiry sitting in Darwin, after the process was blocked twice by the federal government.

The inquiry will hear from experts and the public, examine the public money being spent on the project, probe what the hub will be used for and scrutinise claims it will be a climate catastrophe.

Here's what to expect.

If it's sustainable, why is it controversial? 

The NT government has promoted Middle Arm as a "renewable energy hub" that will help decarbonise the economy and "create the jobs of the future" — as many as 20,000 of them. 

It's been touted as a way to build a circular economy, and boost NT government coffers currently more than $8 billion in debt, and will focus on developing carbon capture technology, green hydrogen and critical minerals. 

However, the ABC revealed in 2022 that the original business case for the project described it as a "new gas demand centre"

That same year, the NT government was accused of "greenwashing" after it deleted references to "petrochemicals" from its website and official documents. 

Then last year Tamboran Resources — which has the biggest stake in the Beetaloo Basin — announced its plans to build a gas exporting plant at Middle Arm, almost as big as Inpex's Ichthys LNG facility. 

What does the inquiry want to find out? 

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who moved the motion to establish the inquiry, was shocked a project of this magnitude would be put "smack bang" in the middle of the Darwin community.

"There are very serious questions about the impact that this toxic plant will have on people's health," she said. 

A black and grey map of middle arm with points indication the proposed Tamboran LNG facility
The location of the proposed Middle Arm precinct. (ABC News: Randi Dahnial)

The federal government's $1.5 billion stake in the project will form a major part of the inquiry, with questions to be asked about whether more money can be expected to be spent after it was revealed a further $3.5 billion may be put towards developing a carbon capture and storage facility.

Senator Hanson-Young said the government needed to be "up-front and honest" about the cost of the project and how big of a subsidy it would be for the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry. 

"Every Australian has a vested interest in making sure that we're not wasting billions of dollars making the environment worse, making climate change worse, and damaging people's health," she said.

'Young people are rightly concerned'

Janet Gregory, a Djingili elder and director of the Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, travelled more than 1,000 kilometres from Alice Springs to tell the inquiry that billions in public money should not be spent funding gas-related industries at Middle Arm.

"Our communities need better housing, health and education," she said. 

"This is where public money should be spent, so our grandchildren can enjoy better lives."

Al Cabry grew up five minutes from where the proposed site for Middle Arm sits and said they were "devastated" to hear about the plans to industrialise the area.  

"The views of young people, haven't been considered in coming up with this proposal, because its a short sighted proposal," they said. 

"Young people are rightly concerned that their futures are at stake here.

"Darwin is on track to become unliveable ... if we keep investing in fossil fuels." 

Read the full story here.