Internal emails obtained by Comms Declare indicate how Santos is wielding influence in Narrabri as it pursues its gas project and the flood-ridden council largely ignores climate change.
FESTIVAL OF RUGBY
Narrabri councillors have had special access to the annual Santos Festival of Rugby that has been held at the NSW shire in recent years. In 2021, they were sent an “exclusive invitation” to the Santos Marquee to have “fine food and beverages” while watching the rugby action. In 2023 the then Mayor and some ‘select councillors’ also attended a “private welcome event” and a “long lunch”. The names of other attendees were redacted.
But the event wasn’t just for fun. In 2023, an email to then Narrabri Mayor, Ron Campbell, Santos advised its staff member would be at the Festival of Rugby “to support (name redacted) with media and speaking commitments” and “to organise media for the VPA announcement.”
That announcement was the $14.5m earmarked for Narrabri Council projects as part of a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) on Santos’ contentious Narrabri Gas Project. VPAs are essentially a bonus for councils after a development is approved.
Santos was again caught pulling the strings, when drafting a letter for the former Mayor in support of Future EDU, a STEM education program sponsored by Santos.
The statement sent to the Mayor, included quotes that appear to have been written by Santos staff including, “Narrabri shire support the aims of the Future EDU to connect STEM Friendly Business to the Schools in the shire to assist STEM Careers.” Santos is listed as one of those “friendly businesses” on the charity’s website.
According to ACNC financial statements, Santos only contributed $2,500 in to the charity last financial year and Future EDU didn’t spend a cent on programs, instead leaving the work to volunteer teachers.
Someone who was paid by the charity was a local administrator who was also for a time the ‘independent secretary’ of the Community Consultative Committee (CCC) into Santos’ Narrabri gas development.
The CCC has a state-sanctioned Independent Chair – former Nationals MP, Garry West.
Garry West, who also chairs the community Advisory Groups on the massive gas project, is a friend of fossils. He is a former chair of BHP coal project. Santos pays for his time to Chair the committees. The fees are not made public.
Other members of the committee include Santos’ External Affairs Manager, and two Narrabri councillors.
The last meeting heard claims that figures on community support for the gas project had been falsely exaggerated. However Garry West “informed the meeting that he considered this matter to now be closed and that no further correspondence on this matter would be actioned through the CCC.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
Despite 80% of its area being subject to potential flooding, Narrabri is lagging in climate action.
Its main governing document, the Community Strategic Plan, does not mention climate change and its only action on emissions is a vague promise to investigate renewable energy.
Its State of the Environment report, updated in 2021, showed emissions had slightly dropped over 5 years but council fuel consumption was increasing, and it wasn’t using any green power yet.
Its draft budget for 2023 earmarked $4m for sports facilities but only around $1m on renewable energy and flood proofing. This is despite flood damage causing ratepayers $7m in road repairs alone.