Honourable Justice Rachel Pepper:
Moments ago, the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory handed its Final Report (Final Report) to the Government and released it to the public, thereby fulfilling its Terms of Reference.
The Final Report is the culmination of over 15 months of work by the Inquiry, during which time the Panel:
The Final Report makes no recommendation as to the retaining or lifting of the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing currently in place in the Northern Territory. As I have reiterated throughout this Inquiry, that is a matter for the Government.
Rather, what the Final Report does is make recommendations to mitigate to acceptable levels the identified risks associated with any onshore shale gas development in the Northern Territory, if the Government lifts the moratorium.
These risks have been analysed having regard to the best and most current available relevant scientific evidence. This has included the evidence received from stakeholders and the public during the Inquiry’s extensive consultation process.
Where it has been determined that insufficient data exists to analyse those identified risks, the Panel has had no hesitation in making this finding and in recommending that the information be obtained.
The overall conclusion of the Panel may be summarised as follows. That risk is inherent in all development and that any onshore shale gas industry is no exception. However, if the recommendations made in this Final Report – all 135 of them - are adopted and implemented in full, those risks may be mitigated or reduced – and in some cases eliminated altogether – to acceptable levels having regard to the totality of the evidence before the Panel.
There are many people who must be thanked, for without their advice, expertise, diligence and herculean effort, the completion of this Report, if not this Inquiry, would not have been possible.
First and foremost, the Inquiry must express its deep gratitude to the thousands of people who participated in the Inquiry, especially the residents of the Northern Territory. From the outset this Inquiry was always intended to be for the Territory, by the Territory. this is exactly what occurred. The consultation process was embraced in full by Territorians - often robustly, but always respectfully. And in doing so, the process and the end result was immeasurably improved and strengthened.
The passion with which Territorians engaged with the Inquiry was truly inspiring. And while not everyone may agree with some, or even any, of the findings made in this Report, their effort has been reflected in a great many of the recommendations made by the Panel. There can be no doubt that the Final Report is all the better for it.
Second, the Inquiry wishes to thank the Government for allowing it to do its job unhindered by any interference or pressure, especially interference or pressure external to the Territory. There can be no doubt that this Inquiry has, at all times, conducted itself independent of Government and independent of any industry.
Third, the Taskforce established to assist the Inquiry, comprising of Mr James Pratt, Ms Amy Dennison, Ms Geraldine Lee and Ms Kate Walker, has been simply outstanding. Each has done the work of many, always to the highest possible standard and always willingly. They are a credit to the Northern Territory.
I wish to thank the Panel for their extraordinary collaboration during the course of the Inquiry. The quality of the Final Report is a testament to the considerable scientific endeavour with which the Panel approached the task of researching and writing the Report and the enthusiasm with which they undertook the consultations.
Finally, to the long suffering partners of both the Panel and the Taskforce, who have endured many absences and countless domestic disruptions, our debt is profound.
In this regard, I want to personally and particularly thank my wife, Merydith Clark, for her unwavering support during the past 14 months. Without it and without her I would not be standing before you today.
During the course of the Inquiry the Panel has visited the most amazing communities, seen the most extraordinary landscapes and met the most inspirational people.
The experience has been an honour and a privilege for which we are most sincerely grateful.