Terry Mills’ pledge to ban fracking if Territory Alliance win the August election is a “staggering backflip” critics say, and a populist political play that will drive away much-needed private investment in the Territory.
Mr Mills made the shock announcement on Tuesday, saying “widespread community concern” around fracking led to his decision to change position on the divisive issue ahead of the election.
The party’s announcement follows polling released by Lock the Gate Alliance that showed 86 per cent of 1246 respondents Territory-wide opposed fracking and only seven per cent “strongly support” fracking in the NT.
That poll was completed by MediaReach – a polling company owned by Mr Mills’ campaign manager James Lantry.
“There is no social licence for fracking in the Northern Territory, with very real environmental concerns about its impact upon groundwater supplies and an oversupplied international gas market,” Mr Mills said.
But political and industry players were quick to jump on Mr Mills over the backflip, after he supported the industry in January.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who was elected in 2016 on a pledge to suspend fracking until a scientific study was completed, called Mr Mills “shameless” and “two-face Terry”.
“He will say anything (to get elected) and what’s to stop him from getting in and changing that decision?” he said in Parliament on Tuesday.
CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro said the backflip is another example of the TA attempting “to be all things to all people”.
“At a time when Territorians are desperate for jobs and certainty, Territory Alliance’s announcement today is purely political,” she said. “We support jobs and growth. What Territory Alliance stand for seems to depend on what day they wake up.
“I think they’re playing politics two months out from the election.”
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said they were “extremely disappointed” in Mr Mills’ position.
“We are keen to understand how and why his view has changed,” said APPEA NT director Keld Knudsen.
“The Territory Alliance position would put at risk the creation of thousands of jobs in the Territory, hundreds of millions of dollars in work for local companies, and revenues to the Territory government and to Native Title holders – who have consented to gas activities on their land.
“This is exactly the sort of uncertain messaging that drives investors away right at the time when the NT is most in need of additional business investment.”
But Mr Mills’ position was supported by independent Member for Stuart Scott McConnell who said Territorians have been clear about their views on fracking.
“People in the Territory don’t want fracking, they don’t want an expansion of this industry,” he said. “It’s our job [as MLAs] to recognise that. Whether Terry will stay with that positon after the election, I don’t know.
“We need to stop thinking like a frontier and figure out how we get the diversified economy across the Territory with everybody involved. And that’s through agriculture, horticulture, tourism and Indigenous land being a part of the economy.”
Mr Mills said his policy to ban fracking was to “put the interests of the wider community before risking the future to vested interests”.
If elected TA has pledged to issue no new production permits, not renew existing licences and subject current operations to “tough community and environmental safeguards”.