Supreme Court quashes water licences after legal challenge by Environment Centre NT

The Northern Territory Supreme Court has today quashed the decisions of the Minister for Land Resource Management, Willem Westra Van Holthe, to grant 18 groundwater extraction licences from aquifers underpinning major tropical rivers, declaring those decision unlawful.

In December 2014, the Environment Centre NT, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office NT, made the courageous decision to take legal action challenging a series of decisions to allow huge amounts of water to be legally extracted from the Oolloo and Tindall (Mataranka) aquifers, which critically feed the Daly, Katherine and Roper Rivers.

Today the Court found that the Minister had acted unlawfully in the process of upholding the Water Controller’s decisions to grant the licences.

“Those decisions were made outside of the nationally accepted processes for granting water licences and, while it wasn’t an easy decision, we decided we had to fight, and we continue to fight, everyway we can to stand up for Top End Rivers”. Said Environment Centre NT Chairperson Tony Young.

“This is a pleasing result and means the Minister must reconsider whether granting those licences is in the best interests of the Territory” said Mr Young.

The water licences, which included large water entitlements for the purpose of growing sandalwood, would have allowed legal extraction from the Oolloo Aquifer well in excess of the agreed maximum extraction limits outlined in the previous Draft Oolloo Water Allocation Plan.

The legal action was supported by the Northern Land Council and Traditional Owners of the Daly River Region and the Mataranka Region, who were concerned about the health of the river systems and the decision to scrap the previous Strategic Indigenous Reserve policy; which would have provided some water specifically for Indigenous economic development.

“This is an important decision. It’s important for two reasons, first the Minister must go back and reconsider these ill-conceived licences, but it’s also important as we now have a much better understanding of the process the Minister is required to take. That’s important for the Minister and a win for good process and better government decision making” said EDONT Principal Lawyer, David Morris

The Environmental Defenders Office NT and the Environment Centre NT said that fair, transparent and sustainable water policies were critical to avoiding future water conflicts and to prevent over-extraction and detrimental impacts to critical groundwater dependent ecosystems.

The Federal Government has cut all funding to EDO’s across Australia, and the NT Government has cut all funding to the Environment Centre NT.

Contact: EDONT Principal Lawyer, David Morris 0402 778 997 ECNT Chairperson, Tony Young 0405 117 312