The Northern Territory government is facing two separate lawsuits over a land clearing permit its critics say could damage important habitats and jeopardise sacred Indigenous sites.
In November 2022, the Pastoral Land Board provided a permit for clearing of about 900 hectares on Auvergne Station, south-west of Darwin near the Western Australian border.
The land will predominantly be used for cattle grazing and fodder, but land clearing documents show about 250 hectares of that land is intended for a cotton growing trial.
The Environment Centre NT is seeking to have the permit revoked, saying that clearing land to grow cotton is not allowed under the type of permit that was granted.
“Right now, land clearing is skyrocketing in the Northern Territory, spurred in part by the cotton industry’s huge expansion plans. Land clearing is the biggest threat to biodiversity in Australia, and clearing for cotton will decimate local wildlife, impact rivers and add to greenhouse gas emissions.”ECNT director Kirsty Howey
The Northern Land Council is also launching legal action against the clearing. It says the rights of native title-holders were overlooked in the decision-making process, and is concerned that sacred sites are being put at risk by land clearing, claiming the land board doesn’t require applicants to obtain sacred site clearances.
“The land that is being cleared across the Northern Territory is not forgotten land that no one cares about. It belongs to Aboriginal people. There are legal rights over that land that must be respected.”Northern Land Council Chief executive Joe Martin-Jard
Excerpt: “A prominent lobby group says land clearing is risking the NT’s river networks — which are some of the most pristine in the world — and the failure to properly regulate land clearing for a cotton industry is disappointing.
Warren de With, the president of the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT), said extensive clearing near the Daly River — a tourism and barramundi fishing mecca — was of most concern.”
Read the full story HERE or watch it below.
You can also listen to the NT Country Hour segment below:
Read the story HERE or watch it below.
‘The Northern Territory is home to one of the world’s last untouched tropical savannas. That fragile landscape and its rivers are now the new frontier for the nation’s cotton industry.
But satellite images suggest land clearing is taking place without a permit, raising questions about the Territory government’s oversight.’
This report is from Roxanne Fitzgerald and producer Hannah Meagher. (ABC 7.30 January 11, 2023).
The Top End is home to some of the world’s last free-flowing tropical rivers and largely intact savanna landscapes. Nature is truly abundant here, and it’s why so many of us love it.
That’s why I’m so worried about the Gunner Government and cotton industry’s plan to bring the same policies that have slowly strangled the life out of the Murray-Darling Basin to the Territory.
In the coming weeks, the government is expected to release their plan to let big business take more of these natural wet season flows. This is the biggest water policy change in the NT in decades and would give the green light for the extraction of much more water from our already stretched systems for cotton. This could be catastrophic for the health of our rivers and the communities that rely on them.
The Territory’s natural cycle fluctuates between the two extremes – the Dry, and the flood events of the Wet. Territorians know it’s these big water flows along our rivers and floodplains that feed and sustain our vibrant ecosystems. Research on Top End rivers consistently shows that no water is wasted in the system, and that even small reductions in run-off can have big impacts on fish stocks like barramundi. Is this something we are willing to risk?
A war of words is about to be played out in the field of water management, and none of us should be fooled. This plan involves some truly sneaky wordplay – the rebranding of big dams as something good for rivers, for example, or trying to downplay the proportion of water that will be taken from our systems for cotton using largely meaningless percentages.
There is no way this will pass the Territory pub test.
To understand the potential disaster that awaits, we only have to look south at the Murray Darling Basin and the impact of mis-management, large-agribusiness lobbyists and over-allocation of water from the once-mighty river system. The unfettered push by the cotton industry has seen the rivers sucked dry, despite the best of intentions from overwhelmed regulators, leading to the mass fish deaths and dry riverbeds. Murray-Darling locals are urging us not to make the mistakes they did in letting this controversial industry in. Once they start, they don’t stop – until the rivers are a shadow of their once mighty selves.
And that’s in a place where they have invested billions of dollars in water management. We all know how it will end here if they allow this industry to build dams for cotton. Water regulation is pitiable in the Northern Territory, with terrible decisions like the massive water licence granted at Singleton Station making it clear to Territorians just whose interests are being protected when it comes to our precious water. It is no surprise that the Environmental Defenders Office recently declared our water laws as among the worst in the country. Stronger laws, transparent enforcement, a precautionary approach and effective compliance and monitoring are all the basics of modern water management that are not currently up to standard in the Territory.
We need to recognise that our rivers and floodplains are a connected system, and we need to keep dams, bulldozers and pollution away from sensitive areas of river catchments.
We can look after the Northern Territory’s unique ecosystems and the communities that rely on them by adopting a better approach to safeguard our river systems and their catchments. Protecting our rivers needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. A lacklustre attempt to spin this rush to take more water from our rivers isn’t fooling anyone.
Co-Director of the Environment Centre NT Kirsty Howey
Days out from Christmas, an unassuming, corner-block building on Darwin’s harbour is bustling inside.
“[It’s] crazy. It hasn’t stopped at all,” Laura Luchetti said.
Every year, a stampede of customers stocking up on a Christmas staple has Laura rushed off her feet.
Prawns of all types have been “flying out the door” of the local seafood shop, making up almost half of the business’s sales at this time of year.
But advocates say affordable wild-caught prawns could soon be off the festive table, with species in the north facing a growing threat from industries looking to extract massive amounts of water from rivers.
Every year, about 8,000 tonnes of wild prawns are caught from a fishery in the north spanning nearly a million square kilometres from Cape York to Cape Londonderry, the northernmost point of mainland Western Australia.
The crustaceans are shipped all over the world, but here in Australia nearly 80 per cent of the catch is eaten across the Christmas period.
“The real joy is what a wild prawn can mean for a Christmas feast. It’s just such a classically iconic Australian thing to do,” said David Carter, chief executive of commercial fishing company Austral Fisheries.
But he said increased agriculture development was posing a widening threat to the future of Christmas prawns due to the NT government’s water allocation policy plans and the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the Northern Territory.
He named the “impact of increased agricultural use of water, excess use of agricultural chemicals and cotton” as some of the biggest threats.
“We run across a big geographical area, but each one of these potentially adds to a death by 1000 cuts.”
‘A threat to our livelihood’
When Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, demolishing 80 per cent of building structures and taking more than 70 lives, it also dropped buckets of rain.
That year led to the northern fishery’s largest-ever haul of banana prawns. Fourteen thousand tonnes were caught, and nothing has beaten it to this day.
“The underpinning of our successful fishery over 40 years has been the environmental flows that sustain the baby prawn,” Mr Carter said.
The prawn’s life cycle is intrinsically linked with the wet and dry that characterises the Top End, and a good year hinges on full rivers and big downpours that flush baby prawns into the ocean.
Larvae is spawned at sea before embarking on a massive journey into rivers, where they await the wet season’s monsoonal rains.
“So, if agricultural industries are allowed to take a lot of water from those river systems it does pose a threat to our livelihood,” he said.
“Whether it’s irrigated pasture for cattle, or more intensive cropping operations like cotton, it all begins to interfere with the natural flow of those coastal and estuarine systems that are so important to us.”
Water policy puts pressure on long-standing industry
The Northern Territory government is consulting on possible changes to its longstanding 80:20 water rule, which determines how much of the resource must be allocated to the environment and how much can be used for drinking and by industries.
On its election in 2016, the Gunner government promised to improve the management of water licensing, but the rule has since been at the centre of controversy.
Mr Carter warned against policymakers going for “the next shiny thing” in terms of industry development “only to forget about legacy industries” like his, which he said have supplied both local and export markets and provided extensive regional economic activity for decades.
“As we keep impacting adversely on different parts of the fishery, amid climate change … then that absolutely increases the economic pressures on this long-standing industry.”
In April, the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry voiced its concerns to a Senate Committee.
Chief executive Annie Jarrett said water extraction “may reduce flow volumes, consequentially reducing crustacean and fish populations”.
“Sequential years of reduced flows due to water diversion for irrigation may increase the frequency of low-level flow years and hence increase the years of uneconomic catches to a level where the long-term economic viability of the NPF banana prawn fishery is compromised,” she said.
Mitch Hart, the NT manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts, said the community and businesses that rely on healthy rivers “have made it clear that they are concerned”.
“We must ensure that our water management system is up to the task. Any environmental policy is only as effective as the regulatory regime within which it operates. There are serious structural deficiencies within the Northern Territory’s water regulatory regime,” he said.
A Northern Territory government spokeswoman said prawns were “not at risk”.
“The Territory government is developing a long-term, comprehensive strategic water plan to ensure the sustainable management of our water resources, and that water is available for drinking, growing and making valuable products,” she said.
Check out Kirsty from our team, who spoke to 9 News Darwin about the NT Government’s current water management consultation process. We’re concerned that there’s simply not enough detail available for the public to make decisions about one of our most precious resources – water.
We also have to ensure that our Territory rivers are kept fresh, free and flowing.
“I’ve watched the tourism industry along the Daly river really take off and expand to the bustling trade it is today. The Daly is one of the very few healthy rivers left in the Territory, but it certainly earns big dollars.”
– Harold Sinclair, Daly River
A healthy river system can provide for local communities, who bring in people from across the country to enjoy the special lifestyle that the Top End provides.
The Northern Territory has seen its fair share of environmental campaigns. Some have worked, some haven’t.
And now, a new environmental campaign called ‘Territory Rivers: Keep ’em Flowing’ has announced that it will stand for the protection of the Top End’s rivers.
Protection from what you ask? Well the campaign’s website names three concerns: cotton, dams, and pollution.
So why does this group think these issues are such a big threat? And what would they like to be done about it?