The outcome of a months-long Senate inquiry into a Northern Territory gas field has been left hanging in the balance after several delays and the beginning of a new federal parliament.
The Beetaloo Basin is situated about 28,000 square kilometres south-east of Katherine and contains enough shale gas to power Australia for about 200 years.
Oil and gas giants such as Santos have been increasing their exploration work in the area in recent months, with some companies taking advantage of the $50 million grant program offered by the Morrison government.
Since June last year, more than 300 economists, pastoralists, traditional owners, lawyers and gas-industry representatives have submitted more than 300 submissions about the risks and benefits of fracking the basin as part of the inquiry.
The final report was due to be handed down on Tuesday after delays, but now it is up in the air with the introduction of a new parliament.
When a new parliament begins, all outstanding inquiries that were not completed by the end of the previous parliament automatically lapse, leaving the new committees to decide whether to continue with inquiries or drop them.
Johnny Wilson, who lives within 20 kilometres of fracking wells in the Beetaloo and chairs the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, was among those who gave evidence at a public hearing in Darwin this year.
Many people — pastoralists, land owners, cattlemen — put in a lot of time and effort to be there because there are big issues at stake, he said.
The public deserves a final report and recommendations because the Morrison government has spent millions of dollars supporting gas companies to drill and frack our country and the new Labor government has said nothing about whether or not they are going to do the same. Kirsty Howey, co- director of the Environment Centre NT, said it was absolutely critical that the new parliament continued with the Beetaloo Basin inquiry.
We are talking about an extraordinarily significant new gas field that is opposed to by the majority of the Northern Territory community, as a result of a poll after poll shows. Ms Howey said opening up the basin could blow the new Labor government's 43 per cent reduction by 2030 target and our obligation under international law pointing to Australia's commitments under the Paris Agreement.
The NT director of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association APPEA Cassandra Schmidt said the Beetaloo remained an important project for the NT and Australia regardless of the status of any parliamentary inquiry. The oil and gas industry has been happy to participate in the Senate inquiry into the Beetaloo Basin to explain the huge economic opportunity for the region and Territorians expected to be created over the next two decades.
It comes as the new parliament teases out the details of Labor's new climate bill, which would legislate its 43 per cent emissions reduction target into federal law.
The legislation needs the backing of the Greens and at least one other senator to pass the upper house, unless the opposition decides to support it.
The Greens have not committed to supporting the bill, saying that the target is weak and will be unachievable unless the government rules out approving new coal or gas projects, including the Beetaloo Basin.