17 April 2024
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Common sense judge gives gas project the thumbs up

Peter Switzer
16 January 2024

There’s an old saying that the problem with common sense is that it’s not very common. Well, a judge in the Federal Court gave this saying a run by giving gas producer Santos a win over some environmentalists. The decision shows how valuable an objective judicial system can be.

In case you missed it, Santos has a $5.3 billion gas drilling operation off the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. It’s called the Barossa LNG project, which has a proposed 262 kilometre pipeline that was held up because of legal action that argued it would cause irreparable damage to First Nations people and their sites.

This has been a tactic that has worked in the past. There’s actually an official body called the Environmental Defenders Office, which The Australian says has taken a lead role in opposing the Barossa development, as well as others.

“The decision marks a rare legal victory for the gas company, which had suffered a spate of defeats at the hands of environmentalists,” The Australian’s Colin Packham explained. “The ruling by Federal Court Judge Natalie Charlesworth offered a stinging critique of the claims put forward by the Environmental Defenders Office…”

Worst still. Justice Charlesworth added: “I have drawn conclusions about the lack of integrity in some aspects of the cultural mapping exercise, which undermined my confidence in the whole of it.”

Drilling had earlier been suspended for about a year after the Federal Court found the oil giant failed to consult local Indigenous people adequately, a tactic employed by opponents to new developments.

The case draws into question the tactics of environmentalists, who do have a right to question all projects and what impact they could have on the environment. We can’t assume all miners and other businesses are great corporate citizens, but the law courts shouldn’t be used to screw big businesses that employ people, pay taxes, and help the share prices of stocks in our super funds.

Packham revealed the following: “Critics argued environmentalists are capitalising on and using Indigenous people to oppose developments resource companies say will bring economic benefits and safeguard regional energy security”. And while environmentalist deny the claims, the Australian reports that “Alex Hillman, lead analyst at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a leading opponent to fossil fuel projects, said the legal challenges had caused significant harm to Santos and its investors.”

This reaction seems to support those arguments that some environmentalists are opposing any mining project for political reasons, ignoring the fact that some projects are neither climate-damaging nor against the interests of First Nations people.

The regulatory delays are said to have cost Santos $800 million, and while we should be thankful that our courts can play the fair referee (as we’ve seen with Justice Charlesworth decision), there are calls for the Albanese Government to pay a more active role in making sure regulatory actions are not one-sided and anti-business.

This should be what you expect of a government that represents all our interests, which not only looks like common sense but also is fair.

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