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Environmental group vows to keep fighting after the NT Supreme Court rejects challenge to mammoth water licence for Singleton Station

Environmental group vows to keep fighting after the NT Supreme Court rejects challenge to mammoth water licence for Singleton Station

A major threat to water security, ecosystems and cultural heritage in one of the driest parts of Australia remains in place after the NT Supreme Court upheld the decision of the NT Minister for the Environment to grant the largest groundwater licence in Territory history. [1]

The 30-year water licence permits Fortune Agribusiness to extract up to 40,000 megalitres of groundwater a year which they intend to use to irrigate fruit and vegetable crops primarily for export. Over the life of the licence, more than a trillion litres of water could be extracted, twice the volume of Sydney Harbour.

On the government’s own modelling, water taken under the licence will lower the water table by up to 50m in some places, which will have a devastating impact on ecosystems and species in the area.

The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, took the NT Environment Minister to court challenging the decision to issue the licence. Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation, represented by the Central Land Council (CLC), brought a separate challenge to the Minister’s decision. Both were unsuccessful.

Fortune’s mammoth horticultural project is currently before the NT EPA for environmental impact assessment, which means the project is not permitted to commence.

See the pre-prepared Ali Curung Community Statement on the Singleton development and the Water Justice Project Press Kit here

Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO Adrian Tomlinson said: “This grotesquely enormous groundwater licence allows groundwater dependent ecosystems to be damaged or destroyed.  This includes groundwater dependent trees, springs, soaks and swamps over a 50 km stretch of land. 

“It is deeply opposed by the traditional owners, and Aboriginal people living in the area. It is the ultimate red flag when those who understand and care for this country best and will live with the proposal's consequences are profoundly and unanimously opposed. 

“Shallow groundwater defines and underpins the very essence of this country. We need to act to protect groundwater dependent ecosystems in arid lands. These are environmental and cultural epicentres. They are the oases of Central Australia. They are key to surviving global heating.  

“This proposal still has a long way to go. It has been assessed as needing the highest level of environmental impact assessment, which requires a much higher level of scrutiny. Its devastating impacts have not been approved.

“This appears to be a case of “when you win you lose” for the Northern Territory Government. Water allocation plans are the backbone of water resources management. If we cannot rely on these we are in trouble. We urgently need new water laws in the NT.

“This is a difficult day for everyone invested in keeping this country healthy.  Thank you to all those who have played a part in this challenge, including the Environmental Defenders Office for the staunch case it made.” 

“This is just the start. There will be better days to come.”

EDO Managing Lawyer Elanor Fenge said: “We are disappointed for our clients that the NT Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the Minister’s decision to issue the largest groundwater licence in the Territory’s history in the heart of the arid zone.

"We are examining the Court’s decision very carefully to understand the court’s reasoning and will be advising our clients on their options.”



[1] JUDGMENT: Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC v Minister for Territory

Families & Urban Housing as Delegate of the Minister for Environment & Anor and Arid Lands Environment Centre Inc v Minister for Environment & Anor [2024] NTSC 4



Alex Vaughan (ALEC)| 0427 573 178


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