Northern Territory Labor members have voted in support of banning fracking in an embarrassing rejection of the Gunner Labor government’s recent lifting of a ban on the controversial gas drilling process.
About two-thirds of 120 party branch and union delegates voted against fracking on Saturday at Labor’s annual conference in Darwin.
The emphatic result won’t mean a reversal of Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s announcement several weeks ago that fracking could go ahead under strict regulations, based on the recommendations of the Pepper scientific inquiry.
But it shows how divided Labor is on the major issue for Territorians.
Opponents say high pressure hydraulic fracturing threatens public health and the environment through using chemicals and high volumes of water.
Business groups say it will create billions of dollars in investment in an NT economy that needs it,
Left faction unions opposed to fracking, led by CFMEU Queensland/NT secretary Michael Ravbar tried and failed to dump party secretary Kent Rowe at Saturday’s conference.
MPs including Mr Gunner and ministers were greeted by 200 anti-fracking protesters including activists, pastoralists and Aboriginal traditional owners who are from regions targeted for fracking and do not accept government claims it is safe.
Lauren Mellor from Frack-free NT said she hoped the decision was the start of a path to banning fracking again.
Peter Anderson, the Aboriginal owner of Manangoora cattle station and a fishing tourism business, said reckless mining and regulatory failures had already damaged rivers and the fishing tourism industry.
“Water is life for our region and we are here to tell the government today that we will not accept any more risk to our water, land or livelihoods from fracking,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr Gunner said the government was keeping the promise it took to the 2016 election, which was to have a moratorium while a scientific inquiry was held.
Mr Gunner, who faces internal opposition to fracking including from Katherine MP Sandra Nelson whose electorate is close to gas fields, told the conference the government was making tough decisions that were needed.
“But I hope you can also understand we have to make decisions based on evidence. On science. On the experts,” he said.
“We do this in all areas of policy and the same applies to this issue.”