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Turning Point in Climate Debate

The largest delegation of doctors to ever come to Parliament House will sound the alarm over Darwin’s Middle Arm gas precinct, warning of increased cancer rates and other devastating health consequences if the Federal Government funds the controversial project.

The grassroots delegation of almost 100 doctors and other healthcare providers is being led by Darwin paediatrician Dr Louise Woodward. Dr Woodward brought together this group of concerned experts after the Northern Territory Government refused to meet with her and 40 other local paediatricians to discuss their concerns about the health risks of Middle Arm and the associated fracking of the Beetaloo Basin.

Peak medical bodies have supported the movement, including the Australian Medical Association ACT, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the Australian College of Emergency Medicine - a significant new intervention in the climate debate.

The group will hold a rally outside Parliament House at 8:00 am on Tuesday, before meeting with more than 45 Senators, MPs and their staff throughout the day to seek support for their call for the Federal Government to withdraw its $1.5 billion in funding for Middle Arm.

They will show politicians their open letter, signed by almost 2,500 health professionals and around 10,000 people in total, which details concerns that fracking in the Northern Territory will create the world’s next “Cancer Alley” here in Australia. One in eight Northern Territory doctors have signed the open letter. The open letter’s signatories include health professionals from 130 of the 151 federal electorates.

Not only would Darwin locals be exposed to carcinogenic pollutants from Middle Arm, the doctors warn, Territorians may also face groundwater and soil contamination from chemicals released by fracking the Beetaloo Basin that are potentially carcinogenic and toxic to the human nervous, hormonal and reproductive systems. 

Over 200 airborne chemical contaminants, fine and gross particulate matter, and gases have also been identified near fracking operations, many of which are carcinogenic or strongly associated with asthma, lung disease, heart disease, stroke and premature death. 

The doctors also note that developing the Middle Arm gas precinct will unleash 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which would accelerate climate change and its concerning consequences for our health. 

The historic delegation marks a turning point in the climate debate, with an unprecedented group of highly-respected doctors from across the country stepping out of their clinics and into political offices en masse for the first time ever. 

This turning point comes as the Federal Government continues to ignore warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, and others, that no more coal and gas projects can be approved to have any hope of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. 

Of the health professionals who have signed the open letter, the vast majority (1,270, or 55%) come from Labor-held seats, 462 from Coalition-held seats, 255 from seats held by independent members, and 208 from seats held by the Greens.

The top 10 electorates for signatures are: 

1. Luke Gosling (Solomon) – 196

2. Adam Bandt (Melbourne) – 120

3. Marion Scrymgour (Lingiari) – 66

4. Ged Kearney (Cooper) – 56

5. Kate Chaney (Curtin) – 54

6. Monique Ryan (Kooyong) – 49

7. Steve Georganas (Adelaide) – 48

8. Elizabeth Coker (Corangamite) – 43

8. Sharon Claydon (Newcastle) – 43

8. Peter Khalil (Wills) – 43

9. Anthony Albanese (Grayndler) – 41

10. Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins) – 39 

Quotes attributable to Darwin paediatrician Dr Louise Woodward: 

“My colleagues and I have come to the NT because our government is not hearing us when we say that the Middle Arm petrochemical facility planned for Darwin harbour will have devastating impacts on the health of our community.

Our health system is already at capacity, we cannot afford to be seeing more pregnancy complications, more cardiovascular disease, more asthma presentations or more childhood cancers. 

Governments should have a duty of care to protect people from harm, so we are asking the Federal Government to withdraw support from Middle Arm.”

Quotes attributable to ACT Independent Senator David Pocock:

“Last week I introduced a bill that would give governments a duty of care to current and future generations. It would stop governments from approving projects that posed a risk of material harm to children and young people.

“What that bill and this delegation seek to do is make governments listen to the experts, the climate scientists, specialist doctors, other healthcare professionals and listen to locals. Start putting people before profits. Economic prosperity is important but it serves no purpose if it makes the places we call home uninhabitable as projects like the Middle Arm petrochemical plant and fracking of the Beetaloo Basin threaten to do.

“We must also consider the needs of our health workers, who are warning us that our system is not prepared and cannot cope with more emergency events, like bushfires, or a greater burden of chronic disease that could be caused by fracking and gas processing.”

Quotes attributable to Dr Monique Ryan MP, Member for Kooyong: 

“I’ve been a doctor almost my whole working life, and I’ve never before seen my profession band together like this. It’s a real turning point in Australia’s climate debate: doctors collectively sounding the alarm over the healthcare impact of fracking and oil processing in the Darwin region. 

“To be serious about climate change, the Federal Government must withdraw the $1.5 billion fossil fuel subsidy it has earmarked for Middle Arm. Not doing so flies in the face of expert advice from doctors and climate scientists, and it disrespects the honest and heartfelt concerns of the parents and healthcare professionals of the Northern Territory.”

  • Public rally, 8 - 9am Tuesday 8 May, Federation Mall, Parliament House RSVP
  • Doorstop, 10.30am, Tuesday 8 May, Mural Hall, Parliament House
  • Politics in the Pub, 7pm - 8.30pm, Verity Lane Market, Civic RSVP

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