Joint media release | February 16 | Arid Lands Environment Centre and Environmental Defenders Office
Central Australia’s peak environment group is taking the Minister for the Environment Eva Lawler to court over her decision to grant the largest groundwater water licence in Territory history.
The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) has filed judicial review proceedings in the NT Supreme Court challenging the November 2021 decision which re-granted a licence to Fortune Agribusiness to extract 40,000 megalitres of water a year at Singleton Station.
ALEC is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office. Jade Kudrenko, ALEC General Manager, says the Government is prioritising development over its responsibility to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems which are already collapsing in the arid zone.
“The Government is giving away water for free to developers like it’s infinite. It’s not infinite. Our communities and the environment will bear devastating costs if they don’t slow down,” says Jade.
“ALEC has a 40-year history protecting nature on behalf of arid lands communities and supporting ecologically sustainable development. This licence is completely inconsistent with the sustainable development of our water resources. It sets a dangerous precedent and must be overturned.”
“The Government is proving they will pursue an agenda of large-scale irrigated agriculture, whether or not this can be done sustainably and without irreversibly damaging our precious water.”
“The Government has gifted massive amounts of water to a private company to develop one of Australia's largest fruit and vegetable farms in the arid zone with crops for export. The proposal doesn’t stack up and we’re sceptical that this development brings benefits to Territorians.”
ALEC and other environmental groups have consistently raised concerns with the lack of separation of powers in the Environment Department and calls for an independent water regulator to be established which assumes all responsibilities currently undertaken by the NT Water Controller.
“We need a complete overhaul of our Water Act to bring it in line with 21st century challenges and expectations. Until we fix the systemic problems that led to Singleton, independent scrutiny and rigour over water licensing decisions provided by organisations like ALEC and the EDO is critical.”
EDO Managing Lawyer Emma Carmody said:
“This is an enormous and incredibly unsustainable development that should have no place in the arid zone.
“Our client alleges that the Minister could not have granted the licence if she had correctly applied the Water Act and adhered to the existing Water Allocation Plan for the area.
“Instead, the decision was based on a non-statutory policy that our client argues circumvented the law.
“This approval process has raised serious questions about government’s commitment to proper environmental assessment, sustainable water management and the rule of law.