Concern for future of Territory Rivers as ‘slipshod regulation’ allows cotton industry to clear land without permission

21 Jan 2022

Environmental groups have called for greater protection of Northern Territory rivers, following a decision by the Northern Territory Government to grant a retrospective land clearing approval for a large cotton gin facility near Katherine.

Construction at Tarwoo started months before the proponents obtained planning and environmental approvals. Despite requests from local residents and environmental groups, the NT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) decided not to undertake a full environmental assessment into the direct and indirect impacts of the facility.

After discovering the land clearing through satellite imagery, the Territory Rivers alliance submitted a formal complaint to the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security (DEPWS), asking for a full investigation of the unpermitted clearing.

“Despite the alarm bell being sounded and an ongoing investigation by DEPWS, the NT Government still approved the clearing. You have to ask the question – why are the cotton industry being allowed to charge on without observing the rules others have to follow?” Co-director of the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) Kirsty Howey said.

“Territorians are rightly concerned about the future of this industry’s impact on our rivers and floodplains. The proponents of this cotton gin failed to wait for key approval processes and began clearing and building the facility, thereby putting pressure on decision-makers to keep things moving according to the industry’s schedule. The NT Government is rewarding non-compliance by granting a retrospective clearing approval. This is sending a clear message that some individuals will be allowed to break the rules without any consequences,” said Ms Howey.

“More than ever we need strong safeguards to protect the health of our rivers and landscapes, but instead we’re seeing industry charge ahead, facilitated by slipshod regulation and retrospective approvals.”

“As the rush for cotton to feed this gin intensifies, further pressure will be placed on communities, fishing economies and iconic rivers like the Daly and Roper.”

“Hundreds of Territorians have called for the NT Environment Protection Authority to take a closer look at the industrial cotton gin and its downstream impacts on our iconic Top End rivers,” said NT Manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts Mitch Hart. 

“This facility will enable industry to clear much larger swathes of land for crops such as cotton. Despite industry claims of ‘dryland’ variants, history has shown that this is the first step towards massive amounts of water being taken from our river systems and floodplains.”

“Right now, we need to see the NT Government doing more to get this right, to listen to communities, protect our fishing and avoid repeating the mistakes of the Murray Darling,” said Mr Hart.

Back to news