An update from Shar Molloy and Kirsty Howey
In August 2020, Michael Gunner’s Labor Government was re-elected amidst an economic downturn worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. While Labor campaigned on a reasonably strong environmental platform - including commitments to zero-net emissions by 2050, environmental and mining regulatory reform, and a Territory-wide water security strategy – these promises have been tempered somewhat by renewed political rhetoric to develop the Territory out of its financial doldrums, at any cost. The Gunner Government is still pushing ahead with its plans to develop the fracking industry in the Beetaloo Basin, which will add approximately 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.
ECNT is heartened to see a strong renewables focus within the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission (TERC), established by the Gunner Government to “rebound” the NT’s economy from the effects of COVID-19. However, we are also troubled by the heavy reliance in the TERC’s interim report on environmentally damaging extractive industries such as gas and agribusiness (including cotton) as well as promises to slash regulation. As the Territory recovers from two of the worst wet seasons on record, in the midst of rising temperatures and pressure on water resources due to the impacts of climate change, there has never been a more important time to take action to protect the Territory’s unique environment for current and future generations.
To this end, ECNT will strategically focus its work on five key themes over the next twelve months:
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 decisionmaking 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.
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 currently 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 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 to 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. It will be a busy year, but we are more than ready for the challenge.
We look forward to your continued support as we work towards our goal of a thriving environment for all Territorians.