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Ecologically Sustainable Development Through Policy

Environmental policy touches on so many aspects of life in the arid zone and is a big part of the work that ALEC engages in. Policy priorities for ALEC over the next few months will still be environmental regulatory reform, climate change policy, water policy and mining.  

ALEC is actively advocating for a strong, effective and holistic climate change policy that sets a target for emission reductions and facilitates appropriate adaptation planning. The lack of a climate policy for the NT is holding back organisations and government departments that could otherwise be taking action on reducing emissions and strengthening their adaptive capacity. This policy uncertainty is stifling our ability to protect people and country from the impacts of a changing climate.

Climate change is projected to have severe impacts on the ecology of the desert and liveability of arid communities. Working to improve the adaptive capacity of our communities will provide positive economic opportunities and protect human wellbeing. To make this a persuasive case to government, a cross sectoral approach is need that advocates through a unified voice.  

The Chandler salt and hazardous waste storage facility has not received final government approval. While the EPA has reported that the risks of the project can be adequately mitigated, there are still many questions about the nature of those risks and whether there is sufficient regulatory capability. This project is inextricably connected to a broader issue of hazardous waste management in Australia. Our current capacity to manage and process hazardous waste is woefully inadequate. There are vast stockpiles and on going environmental and human risks from leaching. 

Australia has obligations under international law to transport and process hazardous waste that produces net positive environmental outcomes. Best practice waste management principles provide that waste movement should be minmised, permanent isolation is a last resort and producers should ultimately bear the full responsibility for risks of that waste. These principles are not enforced, and the Chandler facility is certainly not going to fulfill any of the criteria for the sustainable and equitable management of hazardous waste.  

ALEC is working with the National Toxics Network to raise the profile of this issue and highlight the flaws in the Chandler project. We urgently need a national hazardous waste strategy as waste projections are continuing to rise and there is no solution in sight. Federal interest in this topic is minimal; the government relies on a piecemeal approach to management, of which Chandler is but another example. 

Central Australia is not a dumping ground for the toxic legacy of the east coast. Titjikala would be taking on all the risk without any proportional economic benefit. 

Strong water policy is a constant priority in the arid zone. There has been a considerable shift in the priority given to research into the interactions between groundwater extraction and groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs). 

Knowledge of GDEs in the central arid zone is greatly improving which will allow for proper water governance that protects the health of GDEs and maintains cultural and environmental flows into the future. Top issues for groundwater management will ongoing participation in water allocation planning and overseeing the implementation of water law which is finally becoming enforceable for mining companies. 

It has been a year since the Government began the process of reforming the environmental regulatory system. We are expecting a draft bill on a new Environmental Protection Act in the third quarter of the year, however this process is going to be complicated by the implementation of the recommendations of the final report of the Fracking Inquiry. 

The report has recommended substantial changes to petroleum, water and environmental administration which will need to be incorporated into the reforms that are already underway. 

Part of our advocacy in the regulatory space will be to hold the Government accountable to every single regulatory recommendation and ensure they are implemented properly. There are key recommendations that are big shifts in environmental and petroleum regulation. 

While we will not stop advocating for a ban on fracking, in the alternative, it is imperative that the Government is not able to weaken any of the reports recommendations. There are early indications that this is already occurring, as they have accepted some recommendations ‘in principle’. 

Government and Industry are hoping for a return to boom times for mining exploration and production. NT Government, Federal Government and mining companies are working in tandem to develop petroleum and mineral resources across the Territory. This includes an increase in the exploration and production activities of conventional gas in the Amadeus basin and the potential approval and assessment of several significant mines in this region. 

We have been meeting with representatives from these projects and communicating with the Department of Mines to try and delay approvals until each project can definitively prove they do not pose an unacceptable risk to human and environmental health. This has included collaboration with the Public Health Association of Australia and the Environment Centre NT. In arid Australia, ALEC is often a lone voice in this field that is largely silent on the issues of legacy contamination and sustainability.  

This year we have made submissions on the commonwealth governments ten-year Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (a total disappointment), the National Energy Guarantee (environmentally reckless), an In-situ gasification trial operation in South Australia, a submission to the WA Fracking Inquiry and planning reform. Up-coming submissions include the second review of the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement, A National Product Stewardship strategy and draft environmental objectives for environmental assessment. 

ALEC will continue to advocate through formal submissions, working groups and committees to push the agenda for ecologically sustainable development. We welcome any contributions to our research and advocacy work. Our message is only strengthened with broad community support.

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