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Government keeps Territorians in the dark over NT’s largest water licence

The Arid Lands Environment Centre is appalled by the inconsistent and secretive process surrounding the Singleton Station water licence decision. ALEC will appear before the Water Resources Review Panel this Friday, September 3 after receiving just six working days notice. 

Fortune Agribusiness will use 40 billion litres of water annually for 30 years to irrigate export crops. Water pumped from a massive 146 bores will lower the water table by 50 metres, posing a huge risk to native plants, animals, sacred sites and community drinking water.

Alex Vaughan, Policy Officer for the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says the water licence is a matter of public interest and the Government’s decision must be scrutinised.

“This is the single largest private water allocation in Territory history. Rushing this review behind closed doors raises serious questions about proper processes governing the use of our most precious resource.

“Instead of holding a public hearing in Tennant Creek or Alice Springs as requested, the hearing is in Darwin, thousands of kilometres away from impacted communities. The public and the media are being shut out.” 

“Territorians, and especially those communities in the Barkly region, deserve to know on what grounds the Government is giving away 40 billion litres of water for free to a private company.”

ALEC has been given just 45 minutes to make their case. ALEC’s request to listen to the presentations from other applicants, including the Central Land Council, the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) and Centrefarm Aboriginal Horticulture, as well as the proponent of the licence Fortune Agribusiness and the Department, has also been denied.

Emma Carmody, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) Managing Lawyer (Freshwater), says the Singleton decision reflects a sweeping regulatory failure in the Northern Territory.  

"This proposal was approved with no EIS and little knowledge of the aquifer from which 144 bores will draw 40,000ML of water annually, which is the equivalent of 16,000 Olympic swimming pools. Studies of culturally significant ecosystems that depend on this same aquifer are piecemeal and highly deficient. We also contend that the approval is unlawful on a number of grounds. These matters raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to proper environmental assessment, sustainable water management and the rule of law.”

The Singleton Station 'hearing' is being run differently to the recent Larrimah review which resulted in the water licence being revoked, revealing a lack of consistency.  News about the hearing also comes after ECNT and the EDO raised concerns about perceived conflicts of interest regarding how licences are granted in the NT.

"The government was prepared to approve the largest groundwater licence in the history of the NT on the basis of rudimentary modelling, limited knowledge about impacted aquifers, incomplete studies into culturally significant ecosystems and no EIS. We therefore have no confidence that the government will do anything other than continue to tick boxes to allow this development to continue, regardless of the impacts,” says Emma. 

“In Gunner’s Government, water regulation has become synonymous with development above all else, secrecy and weak protections for our water. It is imperative that the panel's report to Minister Lawler, due on September 24, is made public. We are concerned this is unlikely to be the case," says Alex.

“The Northern Territory is a water tragedy waiting to happen. We’re fast on the way to repeating the same regulatory failures behind the Murray-Darling river system crisis.”

“If this decision is not overturned, it will lock in an incredibly unsustainable development in an arid region and compromise the future health of this aquifer and its culturally significant groundwater- dependent ecosystems,” says Emma. 

Media Contact: Alex Vaughan, ALEC Policy Officer, 0427 573 178

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