• Garawa Traditional Owner Gadrian Hoosan addresses protesters during a rally in Sydney. (AAP)
Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory are concerned that mining FIFO workers are not being tested for COVID-19 when they enter the Territory as they're considered an 'essential service'. They want this to change.
By
Keira Jenkins

Source:
NITV News
26 Mar 2020 - 3:41 PM  UPDATED 26 Mar 2020 - 3:41 PM

First Nations people in the Northern Territory are calling for mining and fracking workers to be classified as non-essential, to stop them travelling to the Top End.

First Nations campaign director for GetUp, Larrissa Baldwin said FIFO workers are putting Indigenous communities who live near fracking sites in danger.

"our remote communities know how vulnerable they are, they know how sick they will get," she told NITV News.

"They know how bad this pandemic will be for them and the impact it will have if it gets  into their communities. 

"Seeing FIFO workers come in and out is causing real anxiety. They want to protect their communities, particularly their old people who are not just family but, the language and culture holders in the community.

"They want to see the communities locked down properly. They're seeing different FIFO workers flying in and out and they know that's not safe."

Origin Energy announced on Thursday afternoon that they would pause their Betaloo exploration project in the Northern Territory.

"Given the unprecedented circumstances brought about by COVID-19 we yesterday advised the NT Minister for Primary Resources and the CEO of the Northern Land Council that we are now at a point in our current work program to safely and temporarily pause activities at our Kyalla well site and reschedule further work to the second half of the year," a statement from Origin said.

"Activity on site is minimal and includes road works, installing water monitoring bores as required by regulation, and safely packing down the rig and moving it to the side of the lease now that drilling has been successfully completed.

"We currently have 45 employees and contractors accommodated in a self-contained camp, 14 of which are Northern Territory residents and the remainder from interstate. Nobody on site has flown in internationally.

"Those on site are observing health authority requirements for social distancing and we are also maintaining separation between Territory and interstate team members."

Ms Baldwin said this she is glad to see Origin's activities halted, but still wants to see more done to protect communities.

“Mining and FIFO work around remote communities must now be listed as non essential - this is the only way these remote communities can be kept safe," she said.

"When one of the largest energy corporations in the country acknowledges their work is too risky and too dangerous, the government needs to step up and put the public health of remote communities first.

“Until this work is declared non-essential remote communities remain at risk of infection from untested and unquarantined FIFO workers.”

'Do they care about our lives?'

Ray Dixon, whose Native Title lands at Hayfield cattle station are currently being explored for gas by Origin Energy said he's becoming increasingly worried at seeing FIFO workers around the region.

“As late as last week we’ve seen fracking company workers coming in and out of our local petrol station and shop, and holding meetings at our roadhouses," he said.

“The government needs to put a stop on this now, or its not safe for our communities to move around, go to the shops or put fuel in our cars.

"Do they care about our lives at all, or just do what the companies want?”

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Ms Baldwin said the problem is that mining and fracking industries have been classed as 'essential', and wants to see this changed.

"One of the first things that Chief Minister Gunner said when this COVID-19 pandemic started was 'you have to trust us to keep Territorians safe'," she said.

"If the Chief Minister, Prime Minster, State and Territory Governments are serious about keeping our communities safe, they need to list mining and fracking FIFO workers as non-essential."

'What if they're affected by COVID-19?'

Garrwa and Yanyuwa man Gadrian Hoosan from Borroloola said he was also concerned for his community's safety, with FIFO workers still able to travel through the Northern Territory, without being tested or quarantined because they're considered an essential service.

“What is a concern for me is the FIFO workers - what if they’re affected by Covid-19 and they spread it to our people by coming here," he said.

“If there’s a problem with tourists coming here, then there’s a bigger problem with mine and gas workers flying in from international and interstate areas and not being tested before coming through our regions, that’s what worries me."

Mr Hoosan said he would like to see the Chief Minister act to protect the Territory's remote communities, and investing in community health services rather than mining operations.

“The money being poured into fracking operations should be redirected to our local health services that are essential during this pandemic," he said.

"We’re calling on the government to redirect funding from fracking operations to essential local health services that need it ”

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