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New federal government gas strategy criticised by Beetaloo Basin native title holders

Dechlan Brennan -

A new national gas strategy has been criticised by some Traditional Owners, arguing renewable energy is a better way forward to power communities, and urging the government to protect land and water.

On Thursday, a new strategy for the role gas will play in the "medium and long-term" future was announced by the federal government, flagging a reliance on gas to 2050 and beyond, and arguing decisions on gas supply and production will be based on the best possible information.

The Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, which represents native title holders from the Beetaloo Basin, criticised the strategy, with Chair and Djingili Elder, Samuel Sandy, arguing new gas was not needed as it involved drilling into land in the NT and "damaging our country, culture and water".

"We want new, renewable energy," Mr Sandy said.

"The answer is not gas but solar, which can power our communities from the sun. This is where we want governments to concentrate. That way, we can have a better future together."

500km south-east of Darwin, the Beetaloo Sub-basin covers 28,000 square kilometres and is estimated to contain 500 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the NT government.

Gas currently represents 14 per cent of Australia's export income, with the federal government arguing Australia must remain a "reliable trading partner" for gas.

Resources Minister Madeline King said new sources of gas supply were needed to meet demand during the economy-wide transition to the government's aim of net zero emissions by 2050 in the face of climate change.

"Gas plays a crucial role in supporting our economy, with the sector employing 20,000 people across the country, including remote and regional communities," Ms King said, arguing that gas will remain an "important source of energy through to 2050 and beyond".

The government has been pushing for its updated Remote Jobs and Economic Development program (RJED), which is currently going through a community consultation phase before being implemented in the second half of this year.

It says their new Future Gas Strategy will help empower "First Nations peoples by clarifying consultation requirements for offshore resources activities and pursue benefit-sharing to ensure First Nations people are partners in the transition to net zero".

Wakaid Traditional Owner Timena Nona urged a halting of all new gas projects, arguing they were "drowning our people in Zenadth Kes".

"If nothing changes, our islands will be underwater losing land, culture and heritage," Ms Nona said.

Mr Sandy said fracking was "highly dangerous", and said if mining poisoned the water, everyone would suffer.

"Water is life, and it's so significant—to land, culture, songlines and our grandchildren," he said.

"If our country is fracked, where are we going to take our grandchildren out on Country to teach them, the way my grandfather taught me? How will they be taught the songlines, our way of life?"

On Thursday Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters the government was committed to net zero, arguing "gas power generation is something that firms renewables".

"When you look at manufacturing, just to give one example – what Rio Tinto are doing there with its processes associated with aluminium," he said.

"They've just signed the biggest deal for renewables that has ever been signed anywhere in Australia, but what they regard as necessary is affirming capacity to be provided by gas."

Australian Energy Producers, the peak body for the gas industry, welcomed the government announcement, with chief executive Samantha McCulloch saying the new strategy will "clear direction on national energy policy that supports the central role of gas in the economy and Australia's energy transformation".

However, the Australian Conservation Foundation said the strategy is a "blueprint for climate disaster and should be abandoned".

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