Application to clear native vegetation from NT Portion 7204, 361 Stuart Hwy Mataranka
We refer to the above matter and provide this submission in relation to the application by Tropical Forestry Services Pty Ltd (TFS) to clear 913Ha of native vegetation (the Application) from NT Portion 7204 (the Land).
About the Environment Centre NT
The Environment Centre Northern Territory (ECNT) is an independent environmental organisation and the peak environmental body in the Northern Territory. The objects of ECNT are set out in our Constitution. Those objects include (among other things):
– The protection of all aspects of the natural environment.
– To initiate and carry out specific campaigns aimed at securing the protection of the natural environment which may include community participation, lobbying, use of the media and legal action.
– To educate the public on environmental issues.
– To encourage the community, industry and government to assist in the achievement of the above objectives.
ECNT’s submissions on the Application
ECNT believes the Application should be refused.
Our review of the Application documents, provided online via the Development Application Online portal, has left us with significant concerns about this proposal. Those concerns can broadly be broken down into three categories:
1) Potential impacts on threatened species and Elsey National Park.
2) Inadequacy of the application documentation, including the failure to meet mandatory requirements of the legislation;
3) Future water requirements of the proposed action.
Those concerns are addressed in greater detail below. ECNT is also concerned about TFS’s apparent failure to notify this proposal to the Commonwealth Environment Minister and the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority.
The crop proposed to be grown on the land is a non-food crop and careful consideration should be given as to whether vast quantities of arable land should be cleared for the purposes of a cash-crop that is produced largely for the purpose of producing perfume, skin care and aromatherapy products.
1. Potential impacts on threatened species and Elsey National Park
The Application fails to address the action’s potential to impact on threatened species, which may be
present on the Land. Basically, the Application demonstrates that no actual work (other than potentially a
desktop survey) has been done by TFS to ascertain what threatened species occur on the Land.
We have used the EPBC Protected Matters Report service to generate a report for the areas TFS
proposed to clear in the Application. That report (which we do attach) indicates that 10 threatened
species and 12 migratory species may be present in the area.
The threatened and migratory species known to occur within the area include:
Crested Shrike-tit (northern), Northern Shrike-tit
Australian Painted Snipe
Northern Brush-tailed Phascogale
Bare-rumped Sheathtail Bat
Gulf Snapping Turtle
Oriental Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Cuckoo
Great Egret, White Egret
Oriental Plover, Oriental Dotterel
In relation to impacts on threatened species and critical habitats the Application documents refer to an
NRM report (which is not attached).
It does not appear that TFS have undertaken any flora and fauna surveys. Given the Land’s close
proximity to one of the Northern Territory’s most valuable natural icons, the Mataranka Thermal Pool in
Elsey National Park this type of work should be undertaken before an application of this kind is submitted.
2. Inadequacy of the Application documents
The Application documents do not demonstrate that TFS has considered and applied the Land Clearing
Guidelines. For example, the Land Clearing Guidelines require clearing in excess of 200 hectares to be
referred to the Minister for consideration about whether an environmental impact assessment is required.
There is no evidence that this has occurred.
The Application documents lack the required level of detail in terms of mapping and impact on
biodiversity. ECNT is particularly critical of TFS’s use/reference to an out-dated survey undertaken by
TFS in 2008 (also not attached) in relation to an action undertaken by TFS in Kununurra. It is not clear
how or why this document is relevant to the Application, nor is any evidence provided as to why the same
results found in that survey would be applicable to the Land.
The Application documents do not refer to any of the reference documents that are relevant to the area, nor does it make any reference to the Elsey National Park, which adjoins the Land.
3. Future water requirements of the proposed action
TFS’s cash crop needs to grow for 15+ years, however, it only has a licence to extract water until 2022.
The Application documents show that TFS has assumed it will be able to obtain a new water licence when the current licence expires in 2022. In ECNT’s view there are a number of reasons why that should not be assumed. For example:
(a) The potential impacts of climate change may decrease the availability of water in the region.
(b) Experience during this 10 year licence period may demonstrate that extraction at current levels is having an unacceptable impact on environmental values of Elsey National Park/Bitter Springs.
(c) Experience during this 10 year licence period may demonstrate that extraction at current levels is having an unacceptable impacts on flows at Ngukurr community.
(d) If a future government changes its water policy to be in line nationally accepted best practice, as set out in the National Water Initiative, a significant amount of water will need to be set aside for a strategic indigenous reserve.
All of the above matters throw into question the ability for TFS to obtain a new licence to extract water at current rates. The Application does not discuss scenarios where it is unable to obtain a new licence, or obtains a licence with much lower maximum extraction amounts.
The ECNT is concerned that granting this permit would send a message to companies that sub-standard applications that fail to meet legislative requirements are acceptable in the Northern Territory.
The Application shows a reckless disregard for the potential impact of this action on threatened species and the environmental values of Elsey National Park. A great deal of further work is required by TFS to adequately address the concerns noted above and provide certainty that their operation will not irreparably damage the environmental values of the area.