LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Due to a perceived conflict of interest, the Environment Minister Eva Lawler deferred the decision to approve the controversial Singleton Station water licence to Minister Kate Worden.
With only four days to consider complex evidence before handing down her precedent-setting decision, yesterday Minister Worden upheld the extraction of 40 billion litres of groundwater annually from 144 bores.
The independent review panel made a series of recommendations for further conditions on the licence, yet concerningly, not all have been adopted.
The licence guarantees the destruction of arid ecosystems and shows a flawed commitment from the Government for water security for all Territorians.
This decision is a death sentence. The licence guarantees the death of 30% of the groundwater dependent ecosystems throughout that vast arid area.
The Territory has failed in their duty to ensure development is not at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems. This scale of government-sanctioned environmental degradation is astonishing.
The amendments will have little effect. The licence is simply too big.
Gifting an enormous volume of water to a private company in an arid zone is a short term gain but in the longer term it’s unsustainable. We’ve seen in other parts of the country that buying back water licences costs the taxpayer a lot of money.
During a Ministerial Review in September, ALEC argued that the Water Controller’s decision to grant the licence was unlawful on several grounds including breaching the Water Act and posing unacceptable levels of uncertainty regarding environmental impacts.
The requirements and outcome of the review demonstrates that when the Territory Government is so narrowly focused on economic development, more than ever, independent environmental organisations are critical.
Organisations like ALEC and the Environmental Defenders Office provide otherwise lacking scrutiny and rigour to decisions that will have lasting impact on our communities and ecosystems.
We need a stronger and more transparent process based on rigorous scientific assessment before water licences are granted to protect the health of our ecosystems and ensure drinking water for future generations.
ALEC and other interested parties have 60 days to seek a judicial review.
We are consulting with some of Australia’s top water law experts. Together, we will choose a course of action that will result in the best outcomes for the environment.
Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) General Manager Jade Kudrenko.
UPDATE Nov 17 @8am
The Central Land Council says in a media release that it is exploring all legal avenues to challenge the decision.
It quotes its chief executive Les Turner (pictured) saying the government can only rebuild trust if it scraps the licence and starts from scratch, doing a full public assessment of the potential impacts, as its own review panel proposed.
“We are getting legal advice about our options. The licence is simply too big, too risky and threatens our sacred sites – and the review panel agrees,” says Mr Turner.
“Te decision shows that the government only pays lip service to Aboriginal cultural values.
“The government leaves the company to identify how much water there is, to assess and monitor the impact of the licence on our water sites, such as soakages, trees and dreaming tracks.
“It has abrogated its responsibility to protect our sites and country and handballed it to Fortune Agribusiness.
“As one of our council members reminded no fewer than three NT ministers at our recent council meeting in Tennant Creek: this is not terra nullius – empty land.
“It is rich in important sites that are at risk if the company takes the water it has been so irresponsibly gifted – and again, the review panel agrees.”
The government allows the company to destroy almost a third of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, many of them home to important sites, Mr Turner says.
“These guidelines only apply to the Western Davenport water control district and fly in the face of the protections for groundwater-dependent ecosystems in the district’s water allocation plan.”
“These guidelines were developed to meet the needs of Fortune Agribusiness.”