FOI: Secret Morrison Govt Report reveals NT fracking offers limited benefits for Aboriginal people

March 21, 2023 9:21 AM

A secret report, commissioned by the Morrison government but never released, concludes that Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin in the NT are unlikely to make economic, social, cultural or other gains from fracking plans for the region, explaining that “conditions are currently not conducive to strong agreements being negotiated,” contradicting claims by the gas industry that jobs and economic benefits will flow to communities (ABC AM program today).

It is unclear why the report, commissioned by the National Indigenous Australians Agency, was never made public. It says, “Almost always, Traditional Owners and native title holders are at a political, strategic, legal, financial and information disadvantage to the companies with which they are negotiating.” (p 7). Critically, the report reveals that, “even where strong agreements have been negotiated, the benefits for resident Indigenous population can still be decidedly mixed.” (p 8).

Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin, forced release of the report under FOI. Report and executive summary here. Key findings below.

Djingili elder, native title holder and Deputy Chairman of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, Samuel Janama Sandy, said, “In terms of benefits and support from the fracking industry, it’s all talk, talk, talk and no action.

“The NT government, the gas companies and the Northern Land Council get the big share and our communities are left without jobs or support to grow stronger.

“We are getting a peanut, while the white man is packing up his pocket with cash. We should own land, buy businesses, but we got nothing.

“I live in Katherine in a housing commission flat, on a wheelchair, and haven’t got a car or any of the benefits they say will come from fracking.

“Our people want jobs on country, but not jobs that involve drilling into our country.”

“We want to protect our underground water, the environment, the animals and birdlife, from fracking. If it goes ahead, everything will be changed.

“We don’t want fracking, at any cost. The gas should be kept in the ground. Everything will be changed if they start production pretty soon like they say. We won’t be able to go out on country with our children and grandchildren. It will all be damaged”.

High quality photos for download.


The “Blueprint for Aboriginal benefits realisation in the Beetaloo Region” points to a significant power imbalance. Critically, the report reveals:

  • “There is limited community information and knowledge about the impact of resource development…There exists a risk that companies in the Beetaloo Sub-basin will not commit to principles of corporate social responsibility in relation to Aboriginal people.
  • “The legislative framework …does not favour Aboriginal interests….
  • “The NT Native Title Act does not require informed consent or provide native title holders with a power of veto over resource development.” (p 4)

The report identifies key problems including:

  • Limited understanding by Aboriginal people of the impacts of fracking and poor information provision and consultation by fracking companies and land councils
  • Inadequately resourced Land Councils which fail to represent a diversity of views, particularly Aboriginal people who do not want fracking
  • Agreements being made without free, prior and informed consent
  • Overly optimistic assumptions and modelling of benefits.

The report suggests remedies, none of which have been acted upon. The report points out that governments have many ‘leverage points’ under existing legislation which they could use to strengthen benefits and ensure strong agreements, if they wished to do so. For example, they could require strong conditions and free prior and informed consent when granting licences to fracking companies. The report also makes recommendations for strategies governments should adopt to strengthen the ability of Indigenous communities to realise benefits (p 29). For example, by:

  • taking a collective approach, bringing together diverse stakeholders including Land Councils, the NT government, Traditional Owner groups and business associations
  • extending governance training for Aboriginal communities to assist with negotiations
  • developing education and training pathways to avoid benefits flowing out of the region and jobs going to an itinerant, non-Aboriginal workforce
  • requiring that proper monitoring and evaluation of mining impacts occurs in co-operation with Aboriginal communities
  • better resourcing of land councils and other representative bodies to perform their functions.

The report recommends that agreements should be able to be independently verified as ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ to ensure transparency and accountability (p 21). This is currently impossible as APPEA and Land Councils have advised the NT government, as part of their response to a recommendation of the NT Pepper Inquiry into Fracking, that they do not accept that petroleum exploration agreements should be made public, in full or in part. The NT government has accepted this position.

While the report notes that “maximising regional benefits from private investment in onshore gas projects in the Beetaloo Basin in the NT is a core objective of the Australian and NT governments”, it appears none of the report’s recommendations have been acted upon at a Federal or Territory level since the report was delivered to NIAA.

This means that the kind of benefits which could be obtained by Aboriginal communities remain beyond reach, from jobs to improved health and housing services, development of new businesses (for example, in agriculture), community safety initiatives and better management of land and sacred sites (pp 22-25).