Unions support Gomeroi people in pushback on gas project

A delegation of 50 unionists including the IEU travelled to Coonabarabran over the weekend of 5-6 November to support the Gomeroi people in their push to prevent energy giant Santos drilling 850 coal-seam gas wells on their traditional land, the Pilliga forest.

The union delegation included representatives from Unions NSW, the Maritime Union of Australia, NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, the NSW Teachers Federation, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, National Tertiary Education Union, United Workers Union, the CFMEU and the Electrical Trades Union.

The Pilliga gas project at Narrabri on the NSW North West Slopes is part of the former federal government’s supposed “gas-fired recovery” and was approved by the NSW Government and Federal Governments in November 2020.

Also in 2020, Santos filed four Future Acts Determination Applications in the Native Title Tribunal in an attempt to override Gomeroi Native Title, which is the only remaining legal impediment to the project. But the odds are stacked against the Gomeroi – the Tribunal has rejected only three such attempts by fossil fuel companies in the past 30 years.

The Gomeroi Nation formalised its opposition to the project in a vote in March 2022, overwhelmingly rejecting Santos’s offer of compensation in exchange for consent to drill their land.

Gomeroi women Suellyn Tighe and Deb Briggs showed the union delegation the areas that would be affected by this climate-wrecking project and talked about their decades-long fight to protect their land.

“First Nations people are used to promises, but what we aren’t used to is follow through,” said Tighe. “So it was a pleasant surprise to see the number of delegates representing different unions travel to Coonabarabran to experience the beautiful Pilliga and to hear our voices and understand the concerns of the Gomeroi Nation.”

It is crucial that workers and their unions oppose new fossil fuel projects like this one. Over the past few years, workers and their communities have keenly felt the brunt of climate-induced floods, fires and droughts. We can all play a vital role in fighting for a better future.

“The Gomeroi have spoken loudly and clearly, and if we believe in an Indigenous Voice, we need to start listening to the voices of Indigenous people,” IEUA NSW/ACT Assistant Secretary David Towson said.

“The IEU is proud to stand alongside so many unions in support of the Gomeroi people’s campaign to save the lands and waters of the Pilliga. This environmental and cultural vandalism must end.”

A joint union statement to the media said: “Instead of gas-fired dispossession, we urgently need to strengthen First Nations rights and invest heavily in a just transition away from fossil fuels, with large-scale employment in renewable energy and sustainable development.

“This project cannot be allowed to proceed. If the Native Title Tribunal will not defend Gomeroi rights, we pledge to support a fight that will stop Santos on the ground.”

What you can do

Sign the Gomeroi petition

Urge your super fund to divest from Santos

Caitlin Doyle-Markwick
IEU member