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:
Conservation advocates are calling for federal intervention to protect native savanna and rivers in the Top End following national revelations that the Northern Territory’s existing environmental protection regime may be failing to provide proper oversight.
“The public is rightly shocked by the media coverage of satellite pictures showing what appears to be unpermitted clearing and regulatory inaction on land clearing, right next to iconic rivers such as the Daly River,” said Pew Charitable Trusts’ Northern Territory manager Mitch Hart.
“The activity – revealed on ABC TV’s 730 current affairs program this week – raises questions about the Northern Territory Government’s capacity to protect our environment, culture, fishing and the lifestyle which Territorians value highly.
“We welcome the strong concern raised by the Federal Labor Government Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who calls for a stop to unauthorised land clearing, as well as the intervention by independent Senator David Pocock and the call for an Inquiry by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Australian Greens.
“This is a key test of whether the Northern Territory Government can meet its responsibility to properly look after the Territory’s environment. We need properly enforced environmental standards that actually protect our rivers, floodplains and savannahs. First and foremost, the government must act to stop the rush to bulldoze Australian bush for cotton crops,” Mr Hart said
“We need to approach river management 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.
“Industrial cotton farming is not compatible with the sustainable management and protection of the Territory’s intact tropical river systems – some of the last in the world,” he said.
Note: The report – A Fork in the River – the consequences of a major new cotton industry in the Northern Territory, warns that the establishment of a major cotton industry in the Northern Territory could jeopardise Top End river systems, threatening their unique biodiversity and putting at risk the NT’s lucrative fishing and tourism industries.
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.
Last week, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released the 2021 State of the Environment Report – detailing the poor and deteriorating health of Australia’s natural environment.
If we’ve learned anything from this report, it’s that Territorians like yourself have a unique opportunity to ensure our rivers and environment prosper into the future. But it’s going to take all of us working together to do more.
Nature in Australia is under more pressure than ever – and our rivers, heritage and native species are seriously suffering. It’s also a dire warning that the greatest threat facing rivers is the extraction of surface water and groundwater.
|Here are some key findings from the report:|
|These results are shocking and make it very clear that we need to protect our Territory rivers such as the Daly, Roper, Adelaide and Victoria from big irrigation projects.|
We’re expecting very soon to see the NT Government release details of a dangerous plan that would open up our rivers and floodplains to the same cotton industry players from the dying Murray Darling – putting our Territory fishing, tourism and lifestyle at risk. If this plan goes ahead, it will lead to a rush of new dams on creeks and more water being taken from our rivers.
This report is the wake up call that those in power in Darwin need to listen to – it’s a clear message from experts that it’s now or never.
Tell the NT Government to protect our rivers and floodplains.
The Northern Territory is home to special, healthy, free-flowing rivers. We’ve seen the damage done to the Murray Darling, but it’s not too late to protect our Territory rivers.
Let’s keep our rivers flowing.
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.
Two weeks ago, I contacted you about a big cotton project pushing ahead just outside of Katherine. This industrial-scale facility is the first step towards a large-scale cotton industry which could devastate our Territory rivers.
Well, now it looks like it’s even worse – and so far nothing has been done to stop it.
Satellite imagery showed us last week that land clearing was already underway just outside Katherine, for a massive cotton gin at Tarwoo Station – before the government had even assessed the planning application!
Today, updated satellite images have revealed even more land has been cleared – almost three hectares!
|We will be making a formal complaint to the NT Government, urging them to investigate. But we need your help to convince them to act.|
We need strong voices now. It’s critical that the full environmental impact of the proposed cotton gin and the associated expansion of the cotton industry are rigorously assessed, before it’s too late.
|We are increasingly concerned that it appears the cotton industry can’t be trusted to follow even the basic rules that we have in place to protect our landscapes and river systems. It’s time for the NT Government to restore that trust, by investigating this project properly, before the impacts start to reach our riverbanks. It would be devastating to see a repeat of the same mistakes as the Murray-Darling. |
Thanks for all you are doing to keep our rivers safe. I hope we can all continue to enjoy the Top End lifestyle well into the future. Our rivers, fishing and local communities are too important to risk.
Lori Martin and the Territory Rivers – Keep ‘Em Flowing team
15 Oct 2021
My name is Lori. I’m lucky enough to have lived on a rural block in the Top End for more than 30 years. Like you, I appreciate how special our Territory lifestyle is – particularly our access to iconic free-flowing rivers like the Daly, Victoria and Roper. These rivers are the lifeblood of our Territory way of life – they’re places that we relax, unwind, cast a line and enjoy the serenity.
But these river systems are coming under pressure like never before. Clearing has already started on a block of land just outside Katherine, for a massive cotton gin at Tarwoo Station – all before the government has even assessed the company’s planning application!
I know this because I live right next to the planned location for the gin, but I was also shocked to see clear proof via satellite images* that show land clearing and construction already underway.
This is only the start. The cotton industry has made it clear that the cotton gin is crucial to their plans for massive expansion of cotton production in the Top End.
I’m deeply concerned about the industry’s expansion plan — if allowed to proceed, it will lead to massive clearing of native vegetation and new demands for water from our rivers and floodplains. And it all starts with the cotton gin.
The cotton gin is backed by industry players from the Murray Darling, who see the Territory as their next big project.
I’m standing up and so are many other Territorians. It’s critical that the NT Government hears clear calls from the community for proper scrutiny of this proposal. Our rivers, fishing and local communities are too important to risk.
Territorians should be able to trust that our government will do the job of protecting our water and landscapes for the future. It would be devastating to see a repeat of the same mistakes as the Murray-Darling.
Lori Martin, Edith Farms
PS. I had a chance to talk to ABC radio about the impacts of this massive cotton gin earlier this week – listen in here and share with your friends and neighbours.
*Sentinel 2-L2A satellite data provided by Sinergise Laboratory for geographical information systems Ltd, EO Browser (accessed on October 3).
Following recent media comments from cotton industry proponents about works starting on the Tarwoo Cotton Gin and approval of large-scale land clearing applications, environmental groups, local residents and fishing tourism operators have urged the Northern Territory Government not to let the cotton industry take hold in the Top End without proper scrutiny.
Territorians value our healthy rivers and savanna landscapes and the role they play in supporting our iconic fishing, tourism businesses and for our lifestyle. With a cotton gin on the horizon, these applications are a sign of things to come and highlight the importance of the NT Government taking active steps to get this right from the start.
Co-director of the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) Kirsty Howey
Co-director of the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) Kirsty Howey said the rush to feed the proposed gin is already well underway with several land clearing applications submitted.
“This is just the beginning. We’ve just seen the Gunner Government wave through its first “streamlined” pastoral land clearing approval to bulldoze nearly one thousand hectares of savanna bushland at Claravale Station, despite Territorians sounding the alarm about the impacts on important populations of threatened species such as the Gouldian Finch, ghost bat and partridge pigeon,” she said.
“Last week we welcomed the news that plans to clear thousands of hectares at Ucharonidge Station had been referred to the NT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for environmental assessment, but there is a clear need to examine the cumulative impacts of large scale cotton expansion plans.”
NT Manager, Pew Charitable Trusts, Mitch Hart
NT Manager, Pew Charitable Trusts, Mitch Hart said big questions remained over plans for a cotton gin, which could lead to billions of litres of water being taken from our floodplains and rivers.
“Territorians have heard the warnings from communities in the Murray Darling who have witnessed first-hand the impact that large-scale cotton crops have on river catchments, corroding public trust and destroying local communities.”
“We remain concerned at the prospect of a rapidly expanding cotton industry, with proponents telling the media that construction of the cotton gin will start this month. It’s imperative that the NT EPA immediately investigate the gin proposal including a full environmental assessment of indirect and cumulative impacts.”
Edith Farms Road resident, Lori Martin
Long term Edith Farms resident Lori Martin lives adjacent to the Tarwoo site and says she has been left in the dark over the proponent’s efforts – if any – to minimise potential impacts on her health if the cotton gin goes ahead.
“The potential impacts on my health, air quality, pollution, water resources, local environment and my quality of life is causing me serious anxiety,” Ms Martin said.
“This application provides no clarity as to what concrete steps would be put in place to avoid, mitigate and manage any likely impacts on water consumption from aquifers that are shared by Edith Farm resident’s bores. That’s before we even get to the potential downstream water impacts.”
Daly River Tourism Operator, Adrian Koenen
Long term tourism operator and fisherman at Woolianna on Daly, Adrian Koenen, says there has been little consultation with tourism operators or fishing groups and scarce information from the NT Government.
“The Daly River is widely regarded as the premier Barramundi sports fishing location in Australia. Tourists from far and wide travel to the NT to try and catch one of the Daly’s legendary Barramundi and explore one of the most beautiful and healthy rivers in Northern Australia.”
“Any new plans for expanding an industry with risks like cotton needs to stack up economically, socially and environmentally. Without that we risk putting Territory jobs, businesses and lifestyle at risk.”
“There needs to be a proper assessment of the Tarwoo cotton gin proposal to firmly establish what building this gin will mean for the health of our rivers. We need to know how increased land clearing, water extraction and applications of agricultural chemicals will affect our rivers and the long standing tourism businesses that rely on them”.
The Environment Centre NT has responded with alarm to today’s announcement of industry plans to build a massive cotton gin at Tarwoo, just north of Katherine on the Stuart Highway.
“People in the Top End have made it abundantly clear: we don’t want the cotton industry anywhere near our rivers until they’ve fixed up their Murray-Darling mess. Do these companies think they can ignore Territorians like this?” said Kirsty Howey, Co-Director of ECNT.
In a uComms poll of Top End residents in February:
“We need the Northern Territory Government to listen to Territorians – many of whom have grave concerns about what such a large expansion of the cotton industry would mean for our rivers, our fishing and our lifestyle.”
“The big cotton companies need to stop their doublespeak. They’ve been asking for public money to build this gin for years. When they didn’t get it, they switched to asking for taxpayer money to build new power lines and roads on private property.”
“That’s still public money going straight to a private company, to fund the most expensive part of building a damaging cotton gin and prop up their operations. Why should Territory taxpayers fork out our money to prop up big cotton companies when remote communities still lack basic drinking water protections and energy security?”
“A cotton gin of this size would require large amounts of water, land and power. In full operation, a cotton gin like this would need at least 832,000 litres per day of water just to keep it running. Where is all that water coming from? How will that impact on local farmers and growers in Edith Farms and the Katherine region?”
“We also remain deeply concerned about the electricity requirements of such a massive operation. Where will that power come from? Who in the Territory will miss out on power generation if the cotton companies get their millions in taxpayer handouts?”
“Today’s announcement by industry flies in the face of community concerns and puts the future of Top End rivers at risk. Territorians know that cotton kills rivers. We don’t want to see the same mistakes from down South, happen up here.”
 Polling commissioned by the Environment Centre NT and undertaken by uComms, who conducted a survey of 837 residents in the Northern Territory seats of Blain, Brennan, Casuarina, Daly, Drysdale, Fannie Bay, Fong Lim, Johnston, Karama, Katherine, Nightcliff, Port Darwin, Sanderson, Spillett, and Wanguri during the nights of the 10th & 11th February 2021.
Recent polling has revealed that the threat posed by large-scale cotton operations remains a key concern for Northern Territory residents – particularly in relation to recreational fishing along iconic river systems.
“Territorians have made it clear they 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 Jason Fowler from the Environment Centre NT.
“It’s clear that Big Cotton industry plans are disconnected from community expectations of healthy rivers, fishing and lifestyle. We know that fishing is an important part of the Top End lifestyle, with 63% of respondents stating that they use rivers in the Top End for fishing, boating or other recreational activities.”
“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 Daly at risk.”
“The spectre of reduced water flows, large-scale devastation and mass fish kills along the Murray Darling is a very real concern for NT residents, with 69.4% of respondents concerned about large cotton companies being allowed into the Territory before they fix the problems they have caused in the Murray Darling,” said Mr Fowler.
“We’re seeing continued industry calls for Territory residents to provide millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to prop up large agriculture proposals driven by cotton. It’s deeply concerning to see big business push for more water from floodplains, more land clearing and a widespread disregard for maintaining healthy river systems.”
“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,” concluded Mr Fowler.
Polling commissioned by the Environment Centre NT and undertaken by uComms, who conducted a survey of 837 residents in the Northern Territory seats of Blain, Brennan, Casuarina, Daly, Drysdale, Fannie Bay, Fong Lim, Johnston, Karama, Katherine, Nightcliff, Port Darwin, Sanderson, Spillett, and Wanguri during the nights of the 10th & 11th February 2021.