The Northern Territory’s peak environment bodies, Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) have lodged applications for Ministerial review of the Water Controller’s decision to grant Fortune Agribusiness a licence to extract 40 billion litres of groundwater per annum at Singleton Station, south of Tennant Creek.
ALEC CEO, Jimmy Cocking, said, “This is not a decision ALEC has taken lightly, but this is the largest groundwater licence ever granted in the Territory and it sets a shocking precedent. It’s a sign that Territorians should be very worried about how the Government is managing our most precious resource.”
“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change first-hand in Central Australia, and the harm it’s causing to our groundwater. In 2020, some Indigenous communities nearly ran out of drinking water altogether."
"Calls for safe drinking water legislation by Northern Territory land councils and environmental groups have gone unanswered, yet the Water Controller has seen fit to hand out a massive groundwater licence for free to Fortune Agribusiness. It’s simply unjust, and Territorians see it this way.”
“We know that over-extraction of groundwater can impact drinking water supplies and kill precious ecosystems on the surface that depend on that water. This groundwater extraction licence will drain an ancient aquifer by up to 50 metres over 30 years, irreversibly damaging up to 30% of plants, animals and water systems on the surface. On this basis alone the licence should have been rejected.”
ECNT’s Co-Director Kirsty Howey said, “Like all water licences for irrigation in the Territory, this licence has been handed out for free to Fortune Agribusiness. This means that the Northern Territory Government is foregoing a vital revenue source that should be used to monitor and manage water licences in the NT. One expert estimated that Fortune’s water licence would be worth $20million elsewhere in Australia.”
“Without income from water licences, the Northern Territory Government simply can’t monitor the impacts of massive licences like these. This year’s Territory budget has seen the funding for Water Resources cut, and KPIs for on-site monitoring visits by the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security slashed from 170, to 100, per year. This leaves our water extremely vulnerable, particularly as pressure for industrial-scale irrigation ramps up across the Territory.”
ECNT and ALEC are calling on an overhaul of the Northern Territory’s water laws. They are failing Territorians, and our precious ecosystems.
ALEC lodged its application for the licence review with legal assistance from the Environmental Defenders Office, Australia's largest environmental legal centre.