The Northern Territory’s nature is a national treasure and a part of who we are. The Top End is the heart of the world’s largest intact tropical savanna woodlands, which stretch from Cairns to Broome across Northern Australia. Iconic free-flowing rivers snake through the savanna landscape and discharge into the ocean. Traditional Owners continue to manage these landscapes in accordance with millennia-old laws and customs. We should do all we can to protect our nature.
Yet the Territory’s iconic landscapes, ecosystems and native wildlife are under threat like never before. We are in the middle of an extinction crisis, with the highest rate of mammal extinction anywhere in the world. Feral animals, invasive weeds and wildfire are ravaging ecosystems and many native wildlife populations have undergone catastrophic declines. Climate change impacts are increasing. Research recently diagnosed our tropical savanna and arid zone as ecosystems in collapse.
Now, massive agricultural developments are destroying huge areas of wildlife habitat through broadscale tree-clearing. This is being spearheaded by the proposed massive expansion of the cotton industry in the Northern Territory. In July 2023, the Northern Territory government released its Agribusiness Strategy. The strategy includes a target to bulldoze and burn 100 000 hectares of native vegetation. This strategy also includes plans to change the tenure of pastoral land – covering 45% of the Territory’s land mass – to allow for cotton and cropping. If implemented this plan would erode co-existing native title rights and interests and hand over billions of litres of unregulated and unmonitored free water. Land clearing approvals have already increased by 300% in the last few years in the Northern Territory, destroying biodiversity and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
All this is happening in the absence of specific biodiversity conservation legislation, nor basic native vegetation law, nor any comprehensive biodiversity or threatened species policy framework.
Instead of acting to protect our nature, the Northern Territory Government is speeding its decline. In January 2023, ABC’s 7.30 revealed in shocking detail how cotton growers are felling trees and clearing land on multiple stations before permits had been granted. Following complaints, the Northern Territory Government granted retrospective permits. The alleged illegal bulldozing of NT’s savanna woodlands sparked a national scandal, with federal Minister Plibersek investigating, prompting an outcry from land councils and fishing groups. However, the Northern Territory Government only issued paltry fines for the illegal bulldozing of Gouldian finch habitat for a cotton gin site. The only reason these fines were issued was because the community took matters into their own hands, raising the alarm.
It is unacceptable that the community is forced to become the watchdog because the regulator fails.
It’s simply not good enough. It’s time for the Northern Territory Government to do its job.
At ECNT, we’re calling for next generation nature laws for the Northern Territory.
Unbelievably, the Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction without native vegetation laws. We don’t have an overarching biodiversity conservation strategy. We don’t have state of the environment reporting. The NT has some of the weakest community rights in environmental decision making, and has been ranked last for land clearing enforcement and compliance. It’s simply not good enough.
Urgent reform is desperately needed to protect the Territory’s nature. We deserve best practice biodiversity laws that halt biodiversity decline, protect our precious nature and give local communities a genuine say in decision-making.
ECNT is calling for cross-party support and commitment to best practice nature laws. You can help us get that commitment. Email Chief Minister Fyles and Environment Minister Moss now to let them know that you will be voting for the Territory’s nature at the next election.want NT Nature Laws now!
You can download the Discussion Paper here.