Govt may have bent rules in Fortune Agribusiness deal



The NT Government must scrap the Singleton Station water licence decision following revelations by the ABC that the government may have bent the rules to give Fortune Agribusiness an unfair advantage over Aboriginal landowners and the public.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that one of the government’s own water planners warned against creating the impression that the government gave the company an unfair procedural advantage over the rights and interests of traditional owners, native title holders and remote community residents.

These documents show that the NT Environment Department chief executive Jo Townsend (who also happens to be the NT water controller) was alerted to the risk of the perception that her department is either incompetent or something more sinister is going on, but ignored the warning.

They demonstrate that the government puts private profits before the rights and interests of our people and treats sacred site protection with total contempt.

The documents show that following a 2019 meeting between Ms Townsend, Fortune Agribusiness, Chief Minister Michael Gunner and water security minister Eva Lawler, Ms Townsend directed her department to quickly fix the issue of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, so that it would be clear that not all of these ecosystems needed to be protected.

The department then developed a guideline in consultation with the company which Ms Townsend approved.

It applies exclusively to the water region that includes by Singleton Station and allows for the destruction of up to 30% of ground-water-dependent ecosystems, which were previously protected.

In 2020, this time acting as the water controller, she referred to the guideline in her decision to award the NT’s biggest-ever water licence to the company, allowing it to pump up 40,000 mega litres of finite groundwater per year for 30 years, for free and largely to grow export crops.

Unsurprisingly, the company’s modelling showed that the impact of the licence on groundwater-dependent ecosystems would be within the 30% allowed by the guideline.

If Minister Lawler is a fair and independent umpire in the current review of the licence she would listen to the traditional owners and scrap it rather than roll over for private business.

Les Turner, chief executive, Central Land Council

11 November 2021


  1. Enough is enough!
    Indigenous people and their rights have been ignored for more than two centuries. It appears that the NT government still has the same mindset as before.
    When will they put Indigenous people’s welfare at the forefront of commercial dealings. It is really a case of respecting Human Rights.
    And it’s not just giving water licences to big business. The justice system and police brutality is another failing of the NT government.


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