Scores of health professionals from across the country are preparing to descend on Canberra when parliament resumes protesting the development of what they fear will become Australia’s own ‘cancer alley’.
This grassroots movement of clinicians and other healthcare providers, predominantly from the Northern Territory but joined by colleagues from the ACT and around the country are teaming up with climate groups to highlight the severe health risks from the Middle Arm project.
Billed by governments as a ‘sustainable development precinct’ and backed with $1.5 billion in federal funding, Middle Arm will be a major new gas project facilitating the fracking of the Beetaloo Basin. Scientists are clear that new fossil fuel developments will lead to even more damage to human health, our environment and climate.
More than 80 paediatricians, GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals have already registered to attend a morning rally from 8am on 8 August 2023 followed by a day of action briefing parliamentarians.
The group argues that the serious adverse health impacts from the development are not being assessed as part of the relevant approval processes. Over 1100 health professionals have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the federal government to withdraw funding and stop the project.
NT paediatrician Louise Woodward who has helped lead community action against the project said:
“As a paediatrician working in the NT, I am deeply concerned about the expansion of the onshore gas industry in the NT and the risk to the health of children and families in the Territory. The health and well-being of our communities should be prioritised over the vested interests of fossil fuel companies.
“It is not only doctors who have a duty of care to protect their patients from harm, but also governments, who have a duty to uphold the right to health for the people they serve. Middle Arm and Beetaloo jeopardise these basic human rights and will turbo-charge the climate crisis reducing the liveability of Northern Australia for future generations."
Kate Wylie, GP and Executive Director of Doctors for the Environment Australia said:
“Doctors care about this because we know that these projects are going to be bad for the health of our patients and their communities. We see the health impacts of climate change already, every time there is an extreme weather event, be that a heat wave, a fire or a flood, we are there acting to help our patients. We know that these weather events are made worse by climate change and we can see that Beetaloo and Middle Arm are going to add a further load to an already overloaded health system.
“These projects need to be stopped because of the severe detrimental human health impacts they will bring.”
The action is being supported by Member for Kooyong Dr Monique Ryan and ACT Independent Senator David Pocock.
Dr Ryan said:
"When I was a paediatric neurologist, I knew many doctors who cared about the health risks of climate change but feared speaking out — that so many are now standing up shows how defining this fight is.
“Middle Arm will unleash a 1.4 million tonne carbon bomb in the atmosphere, and risk creating a new ‘Cancer Alley’ in the Northern Territory. The health risks are diabolical — almost as diabolical as the fact the Federal Government is spending almost $2 billion to prop up this awful project."
Senator Pocock said Middle Arm is a project we can’t afford to see go ahead.
“We have a duty of care to act in the best interests of Australian children and future generations. Allowing the Middle Arm petrochemical precinct to proceed would be failing young people. It will cause enduring harm to the communities who call this part of the country home, as well as the environment and climate.
“The IPCC, IEA and experts around the world could not be clearer in warning that we cannot afford new fossil fuel projects like Middle Arm. Providing a huge government subsidy to a gas export hub while seeing the impacts of climate change, and being warned there is worse to come, is negligent. We need our government to do better.”