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‘Gas to Gove’ – an open letter to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

In 1963 I signed the historic bark petition which opposed the Gove refinery and bauxite mine and started the land rights movement, and which is now displayed in Parliament House, Canberra. In 2011 I signed the historic mining agreement with Rio Tinto Alcan which guarantees the refinery and bauxite mine for another 42 years. How the wheel turns!

This is an open letter from Wali Wunungmurra to Mr Terry Mills, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

Wali Wunungmurra was born at Yirrkala in 1946. He is a Mala leader and law man of the Dhalwanu nation of the Yolgnu in Arnhem Land. His homeland is Gurrumurru.

As Chairman of the Northern Land Council and a senior traditional owner in East Arnhem Land, I urge you – in the interests of all Territorians – to exercise every power of your office to ensure a gas supply to Gove and secure the future of Pacific Aluminium’s alumina refinery.

The refinery is the major employer and economic driver for Nhulunbuy and East Arnhem Land, to the immediate benefit of the town’s 4,000 residents and a further 16,000 Aboriginal people living in communities.

More than 20,000 people benefit from access to the local hospital, Woolworths and other retailers, high school, service station, social clubs and other services.

If Pacific Aluminium’s refinery closes, all these services will go – along with the lifetime investments of ordinary Territorians.

Without a local hospital, every expectant mother will have to be medically evacuated to Darwin. Without a high school, Aboriginal children will not get an education followed by full-time work and a productive life.

Currently Darwin has gas until 2034, after which a new gas supply must be found. Pacific Aluminium asks to purchase some of that gas, bringing forward the need to find a new gas supplier to 2027.

This is a fair and workable compromise regarding what is currently the only source of gas in the Northern Territory.

It draws the right balance between the city and the bush, and means a crucial public resource – gas – will be fairly shared by all Territorians.

It guarantees $1.2 billion of development to upgrade the refinery and build the pipeline, with employment for Aboriginal people in communities – and continues the current $170 million to local Darwin and Gove suppliers, and royalties and taxes to the Government for the public good.

And by doubling the market for gas it will stimulate exploration and secure gas well before 2027.

The NLC cleared the Gove pipeline route in 2004, and stands ready to fast-track that development – and gas exploration.

In 1963 I signed the historic bark petition which opposed the Gove refinery and bauxite mine and started the land rights movement, and which is now displayed in Parliament House, Canberra.

In 2011 I signed the historic mining agreement with Rio Tinto Alcan which guarantees the refinery and bauxite mine for another 42 years.

How the wheel turns!

What was conflict is now agreement, what was dispute is now Yolngu and Balanda people working together.

This was a great achievement.

Your election as Chief Minister last year was historic. You came to high office with the support of the city, the towns and the regions, and with the support of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

Gas to Gove’ is an opportunity to fulfil the promise of your electoral victory, and deliver an outcome which benefits all Territorians and brings people together as one.

This letter was originally published in the NT News on 30 January 2013.

Bob Gosford  is employed by the Northern Land Council

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