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ECNT – the year ahead – reimagining a different future for the Territory, where nature thrives!

Written by Kirsty Howey and Shar Molloy

The Co-Directors of ECNT are delighted to be back and working hard again in the interests of the Northern Territory’s environment, and you our supporters.

As we look to the year ahead, we are asking just what kind of future we want for the special place we call the Northern Territory: petrochemical plants, plastics and pipelines fuelled by fracked gas, or a just, equitable future where nature thrives?

As you all know: we can’t have both. Yet Michael Gunner’s Labor Government is determined to lead us down a path which will entrench our dependence on the fossil fuel industry, and increase the impacts of climate change.

We need to call out the empty and unoriginal renewed political rhetoric to develop the Territory out of the COVID crisis, whatever the financial and environmental cost.

We are dismayed that the Gunner Government is still pushing ahead with its plans to develop the fracking industry in the Beetaloo Basin, which will add over 5% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The development of this industry is completely incompatible with the Government’s asserted policy of achieving zero net emissions by 2050. Not only that, the recent Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission, helmed by Andrew Liveris and Paul Henderson, has recommended “value adds” to gas that have the potential to irreversibly damage our precious Darwin Harbour. The centrepiece of this is a petrochemical plant to produce plastics and other fracked gas products. There is a great deal of research emerging from the US about the health impacts from petrochemical plants, which include an increased risk of cancer, asthma, and high mortality rates. We don’t need our own “cancer alley” in Darwin, and the public won’t accept it. Read in this story what we – together with the Larrakia Development Corporation and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union - had to say about this proposal.

Similarly, we are aghast at the recent decision by Mining Minister Nicole Manison to reduce McArthur River Mine’s security bond by $100,000million. The scale of irreversible environmental impacts at this mine is increasing, but the Northern Territory Government seems incapable of regulating the mine or holding it to account. This is Labor’s mine, and it’s the last in a string of environmentally disastrous decisions by them. It leaves the McArthur River, and the livelihoods of current and future generations of Gulf residents, at risk. It also leaves Territorians with an unfunded liability of hundreds of millions – maybe billions – of dollars if the mine packs up and leaves. ECNT has gone on the record to call out this decision, including by alleging that it breaches the Northern Territory’s own mining laws. Read more here online.

ECNT is increasingly troubled by plans by a large scale cotton industry, and agribusiness more widely, to become entrenched in the Territory. This is aided by the Northern Territory’s inadequate and piecemeal regulatory regime, which permits large scale deforestation of savannas, the conversion of pastoral leases for other purposes without the consent of Traditional Owners, and the granting of massive water licences with poor regulatory compliance, monitoring and enforcement. For example, see this article in The Guardian about ECNT’s work to stop the grant of a licence for 40,000 megalitres of water per year south of Tennant Creek, which will entail the destruction of groundwater dependent ecosystems, and the drawdown of the aquifer by up to 50 metres. We also know that “agribusiness” wants to find another 500 BILLION litres of water in the Daly River system alone, to irrigate crops including water. We took out a full page ad in the NT News to show that Territorians won’t allow river systems to be destroyed for any industry.

While these are the bad news stories, at ECNT we are keen to build a positive future for the incredible place we call home.

In the year ahead, ECNT will therefore strategically focus its work on five key themes, aimed at harnessing community and government support for a better kind of future, where all living things can thrive:

  • Climate and energy futures;
  • Biodiverse futures;
  • Water futures;
  • Mining and regulatory reform; and
  • Sustainable living in the tropics.

Climate and energy futures

ECNT will continue on the goodwill and impact of its Repower NT campaign to achieve a zero net emissions economy for the Territory as soon as possible, and to facilitate the Territory’s potential to become a renewable energy superpower. Nowhere in Australia is better placed to capitalise on the potential of this industry. ECNT will continue its advocacy for a Climate Change Act to embed consideration of climate change in all government decision-making and legislate specific targets for Territory carbon emissions across all sectors.

ECNT opposes the establishment of any new gas fields in the Northern Territory, including on the basis that Australia may not be able to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement if the onshore gas fracking industry is entrenched. This work will occur strategically and in collaboration with other environmental organisations and communities. We will continue to apply pressure regarding the failure of the Northern Territory to secure the required offset in net emissions from the proposed Beetaloo Basin gas development, to hold the government to account regarding the implementation of the Pepper Inquiry’s recommended suite of regulatory reforms, and to scrutinise the environmental, cultural and social baselines that are essential to underpin and understand the impacts of the proposed industry.

ECNT will also continue to build on the momentum of the new climate justice coalition of Territory organisations, including by mobilising for just economic futures, and advocating for water and energy justice for Aboriginal communities across the Territory. Make sure you sign up for the “Our Jobs, Climate and Community Forum: Planning a just recovery for the Territory” on 22 and 23 February 2021. Details are in this newsletter.

Biodiverse futures

Land clearing and large-scale water extraction from the proposed cotton industry – as well as other proposed agribusiness initiatives across the breadth of the Territory - threatens the Territory’s environment on multiple scales. The fragmented and piecemeal regulatory system current in place in the Territory will facilitate the advance of this industry with little scrutiny or oversight. Indeed, the Territory has the weakest land clearing laws in the country. ECNT will be actively campaigning to protect our savannas, rivers, and groundwater from these threats, including mobilising support for new biodiversity conservation and land management legislation. We will also continue our advocacy for stronger Commonwealth biodiversity laws.

Water futures

Water security for all will be a core reform focus for ECNT in the year ahead. ECNT is concerned that large scale industries such as cotton, agribusiness and gas will put our most precious resource at risk, threatening the viability of all life in the Territory. Of particular concern to ECNT is the fact that these valuable rights to water are currently given to commercial interests for free by the Northern Territory Government, with the potential for licence holders to trade this public good at a profit with no return to Territorians.

ECNT will continue its campaign to protect our rivers from the threats of cotton, and will be advocating strongly for better water laws, including to require proponents to pay for water licences, achieving a ban on the harvesting of surface water for agribusiness, and ensuring stronger compliance and enforcement of the laws that do exist. In support of other organisations, including the four Territory land councils, ECNT is also calling for safe drinking water legislation to ensure that minimum standards of supply and quality are maintained wherever people live in the Territory.

Mining and environmental regulatory reform

The Territory has some of the weakest mining laws in the country, with a wasteland of legacy mines tarnishing our landscape, and sub-standard environmental management at current mines (including McArthur River Mine). ECNT will work to hold the Gunner Government to account over its promises to reform mining and environmental laws (including by folding the Mining Management Act into the new Environment Protection Act, and to overhaul the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act). These reforms must be achieved within this term of government. ECNT will also be working collaboratively with other environmental and traditional owner organisations regarding the closure and rehabilitation of Ranger Uranium Mine.

Sustainable living in the tropics

ECNT will continue and foster our grassroots work to ensure that the Territory’s future is sustainable. This includes our COOLMob work on sustainable tropic design, energy efficiency, and a new native tree planting initiative across Darwin schools. ECNT is also working on a food security strategy focusing on the importance of locally grown produce to educate and inform government and stakeholders about the critical importance of this issue for the Territory’s future. ECNT’s innovative and exciting program of workshops and seminars on these topics will continue apace.

We look forward to your continued support as we work towards our goal of a thriving environment for all Territorians.

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