cotton industry

  • Jun, 2024

    ‘Fix the Murray-Darling mess or get out of the Territory’

    Cotton concerns for Top End water prominent for NT residents

    Media Release

    11 June 2024

    A prominent environmental campaign is urgently calling for better protections for major Top End river systems following new polling which shows the threat posed to Territory rivers by large-scale cotton operations remains a key concern for residents.

    “It’s clear residents have serious concerns about the threat posed by large-scale cotton projects in the Top End, which is shining through strongly in these new polling figures,” said Mitch Hart from Territory Rivers – Keep ‘em Flowing.

    “The cotton industry’s social license is getting weaker over time, which is at odds with government plans to allocate more water to them. The message from Territorians is clear – this thirsty industry shouldn’t be allowed to expand operations in the Territory until they fix up their mess in the Murray-Darling basin,” Mr Hart said.

    • 72.5% of Territorians polled said that the cotton industry shouldn’t be allowed to expand operations the Territory until they fix up their mess in the Murray-Darling basin.
    • 59.3% oppose the establishment of a large-scale cotton industry in the Top End, including proposals to extract of 520 billion litres of water from the Douglas Daly as per the 2020 economic analysis by NT Farmers Association
    • More than 80% of Labor voters and 62% of CLP voters polled are opposed to cotton expansion in the Top End

      “It’s concerning to see big business push for more water from floodplains and more land clearing and the NT Government taking the same approach in the Territory which has contributed to the devastation of the Murray Darling Basin – Territorians don’t want to make the same mistakes here.”

      “This is why we are asking for government to commit to no more dams on our free-flowing rivers, no more water out of already overallocated systems and binding limits on water extraction.”

      “59.5% of respondents stated that they use rivers in the Top End for fishing, boating or other recreational activities, contributing to the $270 million dollars that recreational fishing brings to the NT economy each year.”

      “Territorians want a healthy future for our rivers. They care deeply about rivers, water flows for fishing and boating, and are concerned about the threats to our way of life. This industry push for
      large-scale cotton would put iconic rivers like the Daly and Roper, and our Territory lifestyle, at risk.”

      “The spectre of reduced water flows, pollution and mass fish kills along the Murray Darling is a very real concern for NT residents, with 72% of respondents concerned about large cotton companies being allowed to expand operations in the Territory before they fix the problems they have caused in the Murray Darling.”

      “We can’t let our iconic rivers like the Daly and Roper be degraded and destroyed as has happened to other rivers in southern Australia. It’s time for big business and government to start listening to Territorians and do more to look after the health of our rivers, lifestyle and the jobs that rely on their health now and into the future.”

    Additional Facts:

    • 72.5% say large cotton companies shouldn’t be allowed to expand operations until they fix the problems they have caused in the Murray Darling.
    • There is broadly shared concern across the political spectrum regarding the polling question: the cotton industry shouldn’t be allowed to expand operations the Territory until they fix up their mess in the Murray-Darling basin.
      o 80.7% of Labor voters
      o 62.3% of CLP voters
      o 94.2% of Greens voters
      o 64.1% of Independent voters
      o 83.3% of those intending to vote for other parties
    • 59.3% are opposed including 47.5% who are strongly opposed to cotton industry plans to take 520 billion litres away from the Daly River each year.
    • 32.1% of people listed water extraction as their main concern
    • 21% of respondents were most concerned about water pollution

      Polling commissioned by the Territory Rivers – Keep ‘em Flowing Alliance undertaken by uComms, who conducted a survey of 1,107 members across Darwin and Palmerston on behalf of Environment Centre NT during the evening of 03rd March – 21st April 2024.

    See more information on the polling here.

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  • Apr, 2024

    CSIRO report spells out huge risk to Roper River from industry expansion

    Media Release

    18 April 2024

    Water extraction from one of Australia’s last remaining free-flowing rivers – the Roper River, could see a 66,000-fold increase from a massive expansion of irrigated agriculture, according to a new CSIRO report.

    The Roper River Water Resource Assessment outlines possible scenarios of 660 billion litres of surface water a year for crops such as cotton, and the requirement of 40,000ha of land cleared across the catchment.

    The technical reports examine the possibility of large-scale floodplain harvesting across the Roper Catchment, as well as the cumulative impacts of up to five in-stream dams, including a hydroelectric dam on the Wilton River near Ngukurr.

    “This report highlights the huge scale of development and the impacts on communities, people and ecosystems that could occur if the Roper River is not protected,” said Pew’s NT Manager Mitch Hart.

    The report highlights the importance of community values, stating that the ‘nature and scale of future development of irrigation would depend heavily upon community and government values and acceptance of potential impacts to water‑dependent ecosystems.’

    “Thousands of Territorians have already stood up in support of protection for the Roper – including demands that no more water be taken from the river, and no new dams be built.”

    “First Nations people along the river have demanded no more water be taken, and for communities to be properly consulted on how their Country and the Roper is protected.”

    “Communities want our rivers kept healthy and it’s crucial that the Government now acts to protect the Roper River before it is too late.

    “This report talks to the possibility of groundwater extraction from the river system of up to 125 GL, which could have devastating impacts on the future health of the river system. To put this in perspective, this is three times Darwin’s annual drinking water supply.”

    The Roper River catchment is under increasing pressure from a string of water allocations made by the NT Government in the past six months. The recently released Georgina Wiso Water Allocation Plan and Surface Water Take – Wet Season Flows Policy, plus the draft Mataranka Tindall Water Allocation Plan allow for more than 280 billion litres to be taken from the Roper River catchment each year.

    “Ultimately, this report points to the urgent need for the Roper to have long-term protections in place, avoiding a Murray-Darling style disaster before it’s too late. It’s imperative that governments listen to the voice of communities – particularly First Nations – when it comes to protecting the Roper,” said Mr Hart.

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  • Feb, 2024


    Media Release

    15 February 2024

    Today’s release of the Northern Territory Government’s Surface Water Intake – Wet Season Flows Policy will allow billions of litres of surface and floodplain water to be taken from rivers and risks the destruction of rivers like the Daly and Roper.

    Environment Centre NT Executive Director, Kirsty Howey:

    “Territorians are rightly alarmed about today’s announcement. The NT Government has opened the floodgates for huge amounts of water to be taken by large agribusinesses from our already stressed river systems,” she said.

    “It’s clear that the NT Government is backing big industry over the views and rights of local communities and Traditional Owners when it comes to our environment.

    “This policy will allow for more water to be sucked from river systems and stored in private dams for thirsty cotton crops, fracking and mining. This could have devastating impacts on our rivers and floodplains – impacting on endangered species, tourism businesses, and putting our multi-million dollar fishing industry at risk.

    “The NT Government are going in entirely the wrong direction with this policy. The NT community has no reason for confidence in the current NT water laws to be able to regulate industry’s water take.

    “Politicians should be protecting our intact rivers, not facilitating their destruction. This is the same approach which has contributed to the devastation of the Murray Darling Basin – Territorians don’t want to make the same mistakes here,” said Ms Howey.

    Pew Charitable Trusts Northern Territory Manager Mitch Hart:

    “With the release of this policy, the Northern Territory Government has failed the test of protecting the Territory’s precious rivers,” he said.  

    “The Territory’s intact tropical river systems are some of the last in the world. They are already under immense pressure. Taking more water from the NT’s rivers and floodplains will have disastrous impacts on the future health of these systems – science is very clear on this.

    “Top End river management needs to be approached in a completely different way to ensure that we don’t repeat the dire mistakes made in rivers elsewhere in Australia.

    “That means involving communities in developing management plans and mapping out new pathways for protection right across the Territory – using local Indigenous knowledge incorporating best science around water flows, native species’ requirements and climatic change impacts.”


    Territory Rivers: Keep ‘Em Flowing an alliance of non-government organisations, local communities and scientists working to safeguard the health of Top End rivers.

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  • Jan, 2024

    Video: Natural Values of Territory Rivers

    Witness what makes the treasures of the Northern Territory special! Our pristine rivers are a true natural wonder and are unique in this world.

    Unlike elsewhere in the world, Territory rivers like the Daly, Roper, Adelaide and Victoria remain in good shape – they haven’t been dammed, over-extracted and polluted like rivers down south.

    The health of these rivers is important for providing drinking water, food, jobs, and underpinning culture.

    They also support a wide range of unique species, some of which are not found anywhere else.

    Learn more

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  • Jan, 2024

    Video: Floodplain Harvesting in the Northern Territory

    “We’re looking down the barrel of a repeat of the Murray-Darling Basin here in the Top End and it’s something that the community is absolutely opposed to.”

    Kirsty Howey from Environment Centre NT explains the troubling process of ‘floodplain harvesting’ and why it risks our rivers.

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  • Jan, 2024

    ‘NT government-commissioned probe of report predicting cotton environmental impacts finds most claims supported’: ABC

    Read the story HERE, listen HERE, or watch it HERE.

    An independent assessment that the Northern Territory government commissioned to find out whether a green group’s report falsely claimed developing a major cotton industry could damage rivers and aquifers, has found most of its conclusions were correct.

    Story by Jane Bardon. (ABC 2 January, 2024).

    You can sign our action asking the NT Govt to act to protect our rivers, floodplains and surrounding savannas HERE.

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  • Jan, 2024

    Cotton gin opening increases Northern development tussle: ABC PM

    Listen to the story HERE.

    The opening of the NT’s first cotton processing plant is being touted as an important step towards developing the North by the industry, but increasing community concerns over water use.


    Sue Brosnan, Katherine cotton gin project coordinator
    David Connolly, Tipperary Stations Group General Manager
    Rosina Farrell, Jilkminggan Mangarrayi community leader
    Kirsty Howey, NT Environment Centre 

    This report is from Jane Bardon. (ABC PM 15 Dec 2023 ).

    See updates and developments from this story HERE.

    You can sign our action asking the NT Govt to act to protect our rivers, floodplains and surrounding savannas HERE.

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  • Dec, 2023

    Concerns raised over impact of industrial cotton gin on Northern Territory’s rivers

    Media Statement

    Key points:

    The following quotes can be attributed to Mitch Hart – Northern Territory Manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts:

    “Territorians remain gravely concerned at the prospect of a rapidly expanding cotton industry, fueled by the opening of an industrial cotton gin near Katherine this month.

    “Communities in the Murray Darling have already witnessed first-hand the impact that large-scale cotton crops have on river catchments, corroding public trust and destroying local communities.  The unlawful land clearing activities already documented in the Territory give little hope things will be different here.

    “The Fyles Government should rule out giving the cotton industry more water from our rivers and floodplains, which starts with no more water out of the systems.

    “It is time the Northern Territory Government listened to the concerns of our communities by protecting the fragile environment we depend on. “Territorians want a healthy future for our rivers, they care deeply about their health for water flows, fishing and are concerned about the industry push for large-scale cotton that would put iconic Territory rivers like the Roper and Daly at risk.”

    See ABC media coverage here.

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  • May, 2023

    Northern Territory Government rolling out the red carpet for 100,000 hectares of cotton, fuelling more destructive land clearing

    Media Release

    Environmental groups have today expressed outrage at the Northern Territory Government’s plan to support and enable hundreds of thousands of hectares of native vegetation to be bulldozed for water-hungry crops.

    The NT government today released their ‘Agribusiness Strategy’, which includes:

    • A target of 100,000 hectares of “broadacre cropping” by 2030, principally cotton
    • Proposed changes to existing pastoral land tenures to allow cropping, land-clearing and large-scale farming practices
    • Reducing timeframes for obtaining land clearing and water licencing approvals
    • Changes to the Pastoral Land Act to circumvent the risk of future legal action against land clearing and native vegetation destruction

    The release of the strategy follows a 7.30 Report investigation highlighting repeated instances of alleged unlawful land clearing in the Northern Territory, an investigation by Minister Tanya Plibersek about the allegations, an increase of 300% in land clearing approvals in the NT, and a Supreme Court challenge to a pastoral land clearing permit by ECNT and the Northern Land Council, which argues that clearing land to grow cotton is not allowed under the Pastoral Land Act because it is not a “pastoral purposes”.

    The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in the country with no specific native vegetation laws and no overarching biodiversity conservation strategy to protect ecosystems already collapsing.

    The Environment Centre NT is calling on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to intervene to stop rampant biodiversity destruction by the Northern Territory and ensure proper consultation with Traditional Owners. They are also calling for new NT-specific nature laws that protect, rather than destroy, our precious ecosystems.

    The cotton target comes as representatives from the agricultural industry gather in Darwin for the 2023 Northern Australia Food Futures Conference.

    Image: Crops under irrigation at Kununurra on the Ord river Western Australia .

    Executive Director, Kirsty Howey:
    “The NT Government have finally put in writing what we’ve long suspected – that they have a long-term plan to actively support a huge expansion of large-scale cotton production which will fuel the biodiversity crisis while our ecosystems are literally collapsing.”

    “Australians should be alarmed about today’s announcement. For a long time, we’ve seen an ineffective, opaque, and ill-equipped system that has been only too happy to rubber stamp permits for bulldozing – all the while riding rough-shod over the views and rights of local communities and Traditional Owners.”

    “Now they’ve gone one step further – pre-emptively enabling the cotton industry to expand with even less scrutiny, whilst preparing to shield themselves from future legal challenges.”

    “Politicians should be standing up for our intact rivers and savannas, not facilitating their destruction.”

    “The Northern Territory’s savanna is a national treasure and the world’s largest remaining intact tropical woodland – but it’s at risk of being bulldozed by cotton producers.”   

    “Big cotton devastated the Murray Darling Basin – we don’t want to make the same mistakes
    here,” said Ms Howey.

    Learn more

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  • Feb, 2023

    Land clearing permit challenged on Auvergne cattle station

    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.

    Key points:

    • A cattle station south-west of Darwin, near the Victoria River,m has been provided a permit to clear land for both cattle and a cotton growing trial
    • The Northern Land Council and Environment Centre NT are taking legal action to have the permit overturned
    • The permit was granted under Labor’s new streamlined approvals process
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    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

    What you can do

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