EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA
NT Government moves towards an annual gift of 40 billion litres of Territory water for 30 years came to a halt within hours of the Alice Springs News pointing out that the windfall may be used to cover the debts of a Chinese media firm operating in Australia.
Chinese-owned Fortune Agribusiness Funds Management wants to grow food on the Singleton cattle station 380 km north of Alice Springs.
Fortune is linked via part ownership to Ostar International Media Group, one of Australia’s largest Chinese-language media groups. Its assets are reported to have been seized by liquidators.
The Alice Springs News pointed this out to Minister for Renewables Eva Lawler in an email at 9.56am yesterday.
At 5.16pm yesterday Minister Lawler wrote to the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), saying she is replying to an application ALEC had made on May 10 “for the review of the Controller of Water Resources‘ decision to grant water extraction licence [to Fortune] to take 40,000 Mega litres per annum from the Central Plains groundwater management zone of the Western Davenport Water Control District.
“I have referred [ALEC’s] application to the Water Resources Review Panel [and asked it] to provide its report to me by 24 September 2021,” Minister Lawler wrote to ALEC.
“I will then have one month from receiving the Review Panel‘s report to undertake a merits review of the Controller‘s decision and make my final decision.”
Alex Vaughan, Policy Officer of ALEC, says the NGO is “extremely concerned with the spiralling mismanagement of water resources. Why has the water licence at Singleton Station been approved?
“And why are changes to the Water Act being rushed through without any form of public consultation or scrutiny?
“it is not okay that public water is given to private stakeholders without the appropriate regulatory environment in place.”
ALEC “strongly disagrees” that major proposed changes to the Act were only of a “technical nature”.
In fact it would give the Water Controller more discretion in deals such as the Singleton allocation, Mr Vaughan says.
These changes could take place as soon as August 10.
Furthermore, the Federal Government is getting ready for national water reforms.
The News is also seeking comment from the Central Land Council.
UPDATE July 28, 4pm
As Territorians we would expect our Government to be doing its due diligence into whom and what water licences are being issued for, says Bill Yan, Member for Namatjira (pictured).
“The fact that a possibly insolvent company is directly linked to the largest ever water allocation in the Territory’s history brings the use of due diligence to light.
And the fact that the possible revenue and profits from the water allocation would in most instances be going directly offshore again raises further questions,” says Mr Yan.