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:
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.
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.
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 Northern Territory Government is hoping monsoon deluges can soon be harvested to support major new industries like cotton, but its new draft rules for allowing farmers to trap water from rivers and floodplains with dams have prompted accusations its preparing to allow Murray Darling Basin-style problems.
Peter Hollowood, Mount Nancar Wilderness Retreat owner
Kirsty Howey, NT Environment Centre Director
Amy Dysart, NT Executive Director of Water Resources
Maryanne Slattery, Slattery & Johnson water consultants
The NT Government has recently released new plan that would allow big business to take huge amounts of water for cotton, and mining through ‘floodplain harvesting’ – taking wet season flows from our rivers and floodplains.
The Northern Territory is known around the world for its iconic natural treasures, including our free-flowing rivers. The government’s draft policy would lead to a rush of new dams on floodplains, meaning that massive amounts of water would be taken from river systems such as the Daly, Roper, and Katherine – threatening environmental and cultural values, as well as fishing, tourism, and our Top End lifestyle.
The NT Government are now asking the public to have their say on this plan. This is our chance to tell the Fyles Government why we want to guarantee the health of our rivers and floodplains and rule out plans to take more water from our rivers and allow dams. Submissions for this close Monday 9 January 2023.
Recently, we had independent policy experts on floodplain harvesting, Maryanne Slattery and Bill Johnson, who research water matters and provide expert advice on water policy and management, on an exclusive webinar to give information and advice on the new draft policy.
Use our online tool to tell the Fyles Government why you want them to guarantee the health of our rivers and floodplains and rule out plans to take more water from our rivers and dams.
Like more details? If you want to write a more detailed, personalised submission, you can listen to a recent webinar from our friends at Slattery and Johnson (below), download their submission guide and send your submission to WaterSecurity.NTG@nt.gov.au.
We need a different approach – one that works to keep our Territory rivers special. Let’s keep the Territory’s rivers flowing.
Amy Sinclair from Nine News Darwin reports from the Daly River, where local members of the community are expressing their concerns about the future health of the river if the Northern Territory Government allows for a new way of water extraction.
These communities rely on the river for culture, livelihoods and lifestyle – but they’re under threat from big business, who want to take huge amounts of water for large-scale operations like cotton. They don’t want to see what happened down south on the Murray Darling happen here.
We need a different approach – one that works to keep our Territory rivers special. Let’s keep the Territory’s rivers flowing.
The Fyles Government’s plan to allow big business to take more water through the controversial practice of extracting life giving flood waters could be devastating for Top End river systems
NT residents and conservationists have issued a warning to the Fyles Government that a new draft government policy to allow surface and flood water to be taken from rivers puts at risk the health of the Territory’s rivers and the people and nature that depend upon them.
The NT Government on Tuesday released the Draft Surface Water Take – Wet Season Flow Policy for public consultation.
This policy opens up the floodgates to dams and sanctions industry taking more water from our rivers and floodplains, according to Territory Rivers: Keep ‘Em Flowing – an alliance of non-government organisations, local communities and scientists working to safeguard the health of Top End rivers.
“Building dams on floodplains to take water in a practice called ‘surface water harvesting’ has been plagued by regulatory failures and has had devastating effects on rivers in the Murray Darling Basin. Why would we want to repeat these mistakes on our Territory rivers?” said Sasha Pavey from Territory Rivers: Keep ‘em Flowing.
“Taking any additional amount of water from the NT’s rivers and floodplains, whether it’s 5%, 20% or any other amount, risks the health of these systems. The science is very clear on this.”
Adelaide River floodplains (above).
Mark Casey, Nauiyu elder who lives on the banks of the Daly River, said:
“Those of us who live alongside these rivers know that healthy floods equal healthy rivers. Wet season river flows and floodplains power the natural cycle of our river systems.
I’m very concerned about the future of our rivers and their floodplains – especially if we see the government allow big business, like cotton, to take billions of litres of extra water that flows in the Wet season.
We can’t allow this ‘surface water take – wet season flows’ to go ahead – whatever they want to call it, it allows for more water to be taken from our river systems. We need to look after our rivers to make sure they’re here for everyone to enjoy in the future. Territorians want our government to get this right from the start.”
Sasha Pavey, from Territory Rivers: Keep ‘em Flowing, said:
“Our rivers are already under pressure. Taking any additional amount of water from the NT’s rivers and floodplains will have disastrous impacts on the future health of these systems – the science is very clear on this. This policy does nothing more than sanction the extraction of more water from our rivers and floodplains. The cotton industry wants more water.
If dams or other diversions are built that stop billions of litres of water from flowing in our rivers and aquifers we put endangered species, tourism businesses, and a multi-million dollar fishing industry at risk.
We’ve seen the disastrous impacts when the promises of ‘floodplain harvesting’ go wrong on the Murray-Darling River. It would be a huge mistake to repeat them in the Territory.
Communities are calling for governments to reset their thinking on rivers – to look at these systems as a whole, to listen to communities on the ground and do more to protect rivers for the long-term.
This starts by ensuring that no extra water is allowed to be taken from our river systems, a commitment to work with communities to build resilient protections and a guarantee to Territorians that our rivers and floodplains will remain healthy into the future.”
Rob McBride, a grazier from NSW, also expressed his concerns:
“There is no doubt that the same cotton industry that has wreaked havoc on the Murray-Darling is spreading north and will push for plans that destroy Territory rivers, floodplains and financial future.
Our family has been sustainably farming for 160 plus years – we respect the river and try to work in partnership with nature. But we’ve also seen the cotton industry explode further upstream, in the process snuffing out livelihoods and communities who act with integrity.
I’d urge anyone in the Northern Territory to look at the total destruction of the Darling River here in NSW, and act early to stop the cotton industry from killing your rivers. If not for yourself, for future generations who may want to walk in your footsteps.”
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.