Singleton win in NT court
The NT Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge against the NT Government's decision to re-issue a substantial groundwater licence.
The case involving Fortune Agribusiness, the proprietors of Singleton Station, could have implications for one of Australia's largest horticultural ventures and its potential environmental and cultural impact.
The dispute centred around the legality of the NT Government's action in November 2021, permitting Fortune Agribusiness to extract an annual 40,000 megalitres of groundwater from the arid Singleton Station property, situated north of Alice Springs.
The decision aimed to support the development of an extensive fruit farming project, planned to be among the nation’s largest.
The legal challenge, spearheaded by the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), raised concerns over the project's environmental sustainability and its threat to Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Critics argued that such extensive water extraction could lower the groundwater table, adversely affecting local ecosystems and sacred sites.
Justice Peter Barr, delivering the judgement, found that ALEC had not proven any abuse of statutory power in the government's decision-making process, stating the decision had a “evident and intelligible justification”.
He clarified that the water extraction licence's approval did not mandatorily have to align with the regional water allocation plan, noting the plan's guidelines were advisory rather than compulsory.
Peter Wood, chair of Fortune Agribusiness, welcomed the court's decision, emphasising the project's potential benefits, including significant job creation.
Despite opposition, Wood expressed a commitment to engaging with local Indigenous communities to ensure the project contributes positively to their well-being and livelihood.
Adrian Tomlinson, CEO of ALEC, described the outcome as “devastating”, suggesting it highlighted deficiencies in current water laws.
The Central Land Council, representing MAC, has indicated they are reviewing the judgement closely, with future actions to be determined in consultation with affected communities.
The debate over Singleton Station's water licence appears far from concluded. With the environmental impact statement still pending, opponents remain hopeful for a reversal.