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Tomorrow the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee kicks off public hearings in Darwin as part of an inquiry into the “Middle Arm Industrial Precinct”.

The project is set to receive $1.5bn of federal government funding. While marketed as a “sustainable development precinct”, the project’s primary purpose appears to be enabling a major new fossil fuel gas export project from the Beetaloo Basin. 

Serious concerns have been raised from medical professionals, the local community, economists, unions, advocates and scientists about the long-term, irreversible adverse health and environmental impacts from such a project. The inquiry has received 201 submissions

A delegation of 100 clinicians representing over 43,000 clinicians travelled to Parliament last August to protest the project.

Three public roundtables will be held on Wednesday afternoon followed by a full day of testimony on Thursday, with the full programs available here.

ACT Independent Senator David Pocock, who is travelling to Darwin to attend the hearings, said there needs to be a thorough, credible government analysis undertaken of the health and environmental impacts from the project and that this should factor into any approvals process.

“Evidence tendered to the senate inquiry to date shows that fracking of the Beetaloo Basin paired with a petrochemical processing plant at Middle Arm, just 2.5 kilometres from Palmerston, will create Australia’s very own cancer alley,” Senator Pocock said.

“It would be indefensible for any government to allow a development so hazardous to human health, and so close to where people live, work and go to school, to go ahead without any proper assessment or mitigation of such serious adverse health impacts.

“The IPCC has also been crystal clear that we can’t afford to be opening up any new fossil fuel projects. Climate change is already impacting our communities and a project like Beetaloo would only exacerbate that damage.

“This senate inquiry is an invaluable opportunity for governments to listen to evidence from a broad range of experts alongside community voices.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, Marcos A. Orellana, visited Australia in August-September last year and flagged particular concerns with Middle Arm in his preliminary report tendered to the inquiry saying:

“The Middle Arm project in Darwin, and the toxic substances it would release, raise health concerns in neighboring communities, such as asthma, heart disease and various forms of cancer.”

These concerns are echoed by health professionals including the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation Northern Territory Branch’s (ANMF NT) who said:

“...we know that the particulate matter and noxious chemicals emitted from the proposed Middle Arm will cause increased respiratory illness and cancers in those living within a 5km radius from the plant. Being just 2.5km from Palmerston, the population there will be subject to an unacceptably high risk of hospitalisation in an already over-burdened system.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Northern

Territory Branch points to evidence from Dr Michael Petroni, an expert commissioned to provide an independent assessment on the health impacts of the project on the Darwin area showing it:

“May increase industrial fine particulate emissions by 513% in the region, resulting in $75

million in additional health impacts, the equivalent to 15 additional premature deaths peryear.

The Australian Education Union NT:

“Middle Arm will force teachers to work in increasingly inhospitable conditions. This represents an industrial issue and will also worsen the current teacher shortage. Any funding from the Australian Government must help improve the livability of the NT’s communities so as to attract and retain good teachers.”

Public Health Association Australian with NT Paediatricians:

“Petrochemical plants pollute throughout their lifecycle, placing those who live nearby at increased risk from cancers, respiratory illness, pregnancy abnormalities and learning difficulties. With the health of all current and future populations front of mind, the pollutants that will inevitably be expelled from the Precinct, together with the contribution to climate change from the three interlinked gas developments, are unacceptable risks to human life and prosperity.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians:

“The Senate Inquiry into the Middle Arm Industrial Precinct must recognise the health harms of fossil fuels, both directly and through the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change. Projects that extract or use fossil fuels or support the extraction or use of fossil fuels are a threat to the health of local communities and to the health of the populations across the globe being impacted by climate change.”

Darwin High School Students for Climate Action:

“As there appear to be so many risks to NT people, the Darwin High School Students for Climate Action ask that the Senate Inquiry make a requirement that the EIS be ‘best practice’ in its approach, in particular incorporating comprehensive health threat assessments of the expanded LNG plants, and the nominated industries.”

The Committee is due to report on 13 August 2024.


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