From rugged sandstone to floodplains and deep gorges, Keep Plains in the Northern Territory is a diverse expanse of savanna woodlands.
Most of Keep Plains lies within a site of international conservation significance, and because of the exceptionally diverse wildlife that call it home, much of Keep Plains is proposed to become an extension of the Keep River National Park.
But the 67,00 hectare stretch along the Western Australian border is under threat.
A large corporation, AAM Investment Group, have plans to start dry land farming and irrigated crops – including potentially cotton. AAM has already started growing cotton in several other Stations across the Territory.
Where is Keep Plains?
Keep Plains stretches across 67,500 hectares of Spirit Hills Station, on Muriuwung and Gajerrong Country along the Western Australian border nearby Kununurra.
Keep Plains is directly east of the controversial Ord River irrigation scheme, which saw large-scale land-clearing for intensive cotton cropping established all the way to the NT/WA border.
This occurred despite environmental harm to nationally protected threatened wildlife like Northern Quolls, Red Goshawks, Gouldian Finches and Northern River Sharks.
Why is Keep Plains significant?
First Nations cultural significance
The area has deep cultural significance and contains highly important sacred sites. One of the Sacred Sites at Keep Plains is of international archaeological significance, with First Nations calling it home since time immemorial. Traditional Owners and leading researchers have long called for it to be a protected area.
Keep Plains is home to distinctive animals and plants already under threat, including the site of a breeding population of endangered Gouldian Finches. Expanding agriculture across the Station would also harm the habitat of vulnerable Northern Quolls, Red Goshawks, Northern River Sharks and Freshwater Sawfish.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
In 2022, Keep Plains became the largest land release for agriculture in the Territory as the massive corporation AAM Investment Group took it over and began bulldozing tracks, drilling bores and locking gates.
The Muriuwung-Nyawam Nyawam, Miriuwung-Bindjen, Gajerrong-Gurrbijm, Gajerrong-Djarrdjarrany, Gajerrong-Djandumi, and Gajerrong-Wadanybang groups have recognised native title rights over Keep Plains.
AAM has started introducing cattle to areas that had been under special management to conserve the precious habitat earmarked to become Keep River National Park.
The savanna woodland at Keep Plains has already been under stress as unseasonably late bushfires cleared vital understorey shrubs and young woodland trees, thinning the savannah woodland and changing its composition and structure.
AAM is degrading the savanna ecosystem within Keep Plains. Their operations are hardening the ground and interrupting natural water flows.
OUR CONCERNS ABOUT KEEP PLAINS
We are concerned about AAM’s operations and big industrial agriculture plans at Keep Plains.
AAMIG is yet to submit applications for land clearing or agricultural development (non-pastoral use) at Keep Plains, notwithstanding public announcements of its intentions and its on-ground works.
The NT Environment Department has said Keep Plains Agricultural Development will require referral to the NT Environment Department for consideration of assessment pathways under that Act.
However the NT Environment Department has never used its powers under that Act to require an environmental impact assessment for land clearing.
Unlike every other state and territory in Australia, the Northern Territory has no specific native vegetation laws.
The vast majority of broadscale land clearing is occurring on pastoral leases, which make up approximately 45% of land in the NT.
Land clearing on pastoral leases is regulated under the Pastoral Land Act 1992 (NT).
Pastoral leaseholders are allowed to apply for a permit to clear up to 5,000 hectares of land before the application must be referred to the Environment Protection Authority for a decision on whether environmental impact assessment is required.
WHAT ARE EJA LAWYERS DOING?
EJA lawyers are keeping a close eye on applications to bulldoze savanna at Keep Plains and culturally significant and ecologically important pastoral leases in the NT.
We are also investigating possible illegal land clearing in the NT, and pushing the federal government to properly assess the environmental impact of land clearing under our federal environmental laws.
We are also currently in the NT Supreme Court challenging a decision to let a huge multinational corporation bulldoze over 900 hectares of important savanna woodlands at Auvergene Station, on behalf of our client the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT).
This case is the first time a court will test the NT’s land clearing laws in the Pastoral Land Act. A successful outcome will set a vital precedent preventing other commercial cotton producers from bulldozing critical savanna ecosystems without proper scrutiny.
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