Lawyers admit Australian government’s conduct in fracking court case ‘regrettable’

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Lawyers for the resources curate person conceded the Morrison government’s “regrettable” behaviour successful a national tribunal lawsuit denied environmentalists the accidental to forestall the Coalition from signing contracts to wage Empire Energy $21m to frack the Beetaloo Basin.

The federal tribunal is presently proceeding a lawsuit lodged by the Environment Centre NT challenging a grants programme designed to accelerate fracking successful the Northern Territory arsenic portion of the government’s gas-led recovery. The $50m programme has already awarded astir half its funds to a azygous company, Empire, which is seeking to drill 3 exploratory wells successful the basin.

The cardinal allegation successful the lawsuit is that the grants were not lawful due to the fact that the resources minister, Keith Pitt, failed to decently see the hazard to planetary heating posed by opening up the portion to fracking.

Earlier this year, arsenic lawyers connected some sides prepared for the existent hearing, authorities solicitors wrote to the Environment Centre NT and promised it had nary imminent plans to motion contracts with Empire. But, without immoderate notice, it did precisely that successful September.

The tribunal heard the government’s actions efficaciously denied the accidental for the Environment Centre NT and others to question an bid from the tribunal to forestall the signing of specified agreements until the lawsuit was resolved.

The government’s actions sparked a furious effect from the national court, wherever justness John Griffiths said they were “unfortunate and not reflecting good connected the minister”.

The contented reared its caput again connected Wednesday. The Environment Centre NT and different applicants present allege the authorities signed the contracts successful “order to stymy the applicants’ assertion successful this litigation”. They reason the authorities wanted to fastener the contracts successful earlier the tribunal had the accidental to find whether the grants and the assistance strategy were lawful.

Tom Howe QC, representing the minister, agreed the authorities had failed successful its work to enactment arsenic a exemplary litigant.

Howe agreed the government’s actions had denied those mounting the situation the accidental to question interlocutory alleviation to forestall the contracts from being signed until the lawsuit was finalised.

“What happened should not person happened. What the commonwealth should person done erstwhile the accidental to participate the contracts was brought guardant was to constitute to the applicant and springiness them notice, tenable announcement of that truthful that they could marque an exertion for interlocutory relief,” helium said.

“That should person happened and it didn’t and that was rather regrettable behaviour that progressive a departure from exemplary litigant standards.”

But Howe denied, successful beardown terms, that the authorities had signed the contracts with the volition of thwarting the lawsuit oregon the applicants.

“Your honour knows that precise often, erstwhile conspiracy oregon malice is alleged, that it tin often beryllium genuinely explained connected the ground of error,” Howe said. “Sometimes mistake of a superior kind, but not of a benignant that involves intended wrongdoing.”

Howe besides criticised the information that the allegation had lone been levelled astatine the authorities precocious connected Friday.

“It is simply a astir superior allegation to raise. It’s a superior allegation to rise precise precocious successful the day, for the archetypal clip aft the adjacent of grounds and lone successful submissions successful reply.”

But the justice said the commonwealth was blameworthy of the aforesaid failing, having lone notified the applicants of a cardinal portion of its statement and applicable lawsuit instrumentality connected Sunday.

The proceeding concluded connected Wednesday. Griffiths has reserved his decision.