Water allocation make-believe review held in secrecy


The scandal over the NT Government’s biggest ever ground water allocation is widening: None of the community NGOs due to make submissions to a review panel tomorrow will be allowed to hear what the Chinese applicants for the water will have to say.

As reported in the Alice Springs News, the firm, Fortune Agribusiness, is in financial difficulties though an affiliated media company.

“Fortune will use 40 billion litres of water annually, the equivalent of 16,000 Olympic swimming pools, for 30 years to irrigate export crops,” says Alex Vaughan, of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).

“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.”

“The public and the landowners are being kept in the dark about the most audacious attempt to give away a public resource to big business in the Territory’s history,” says Central Land Council (CLC) chief executive Lesley Turner.

To make matters worse, the licence review is being rushed through before a review of the region’s water allocation plan that must conclude at the end of this year, says a CLC media release.

“This hasty process illustrates everything that’s rotten about NT water policy.”

Emma Carmody, Environmental Defenders Office 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 … on the basis of rudimentary modelling [and] incomplete studies into culturally significant ecosystems.”

The other applicants to the Singleton licence review panel hearing, the Centrefarm Aboriginal Horticulture, the Environment Centre NT and the Arid Land Environment Centre, also have just 45 minutes each to present new information and respond to questions.

In the case of the Larrimah water licence decisions the report from the review panel to the Environment Minister Eva Lawler was kept secret.

“We fully expect that the panel’s report about Singleton will meet the same fate but we appeal to her to do the right thing and make the report publicly available,” says Mr Turner.

PHOTO: Waterbird, Great Egret, near one of the Territory’s few inland bodies of water, Lake Woods.

UPDATE Sept 13, 4pm
Mr Vaughan says there is a conflict of interest – real or perceived – created in the NT by the Water Controller also being the CEO of the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security. 
That means she can create guidelines in one of her roles that apply to her other roles without public or other scrutiny coming into play. That includes matters of water allocation.
He says this had been recognised as an issue needing to be rectified in the 2018 water reform direction paper but it wasn’t. It is likely to be raised again in the current paper.
In other states these regulatory roles are separated.
For example, in NSW water trading is regulated by the Natural Resource Access Regulator, an independent board that deals with 60% of all allocated water.
Queensland’s Great Artesian Basin Water plan also has an independent board, known as the Independent Referral Panel.


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