The high-profile lawyer who represented Torres Strait Islander man Eddie Koiki Mabo in his historic land rights victory says proposed Northern Territory laws that would allow gas companies to use or sell fracked gas found during exploration could contravene native title laws.
Aboriginal and environmental groups have criticised the territory government’s proposed bill as allowing “production by stealth”. They say the gas industry would be able to use or sell methane obtained during “appraisal” activities without needing to secure a production licence or negotiate with traditional owners and pastoralists.
The government says the law change would allow companies to use appraisal-phase gas to power local communities, rather than having it vented or burnt at the point of extraction.
Barrister Greg McIntyre, who represented Mabo in the historic High Court win that overturned the doctrine of “terra nullius” and recognised land rights of First Nations people, said the approval being sought under the proposed legislation would be a “future act” within the meaning of the Native Title Act.
This means traditional owners should have a right to negotiate, and if these provisions were ignored then any application to mine for gas would be invalid.
“I suspect that the lightbulb hasn’t turned on and … the government hasn’t obtained advice about whether it might impact on the Native Title Act,” McIntyre said.
November 25, 2022 — 5.42pm