The Auvergne Cotton Case: Taking the NT government to Court over giving the green light to bulldoze savanna woodlands
In February this year, we launched a landmark case representing the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory to protect the world’s largest remaining tropical woodland savanna against big cotton’s bulldozers.
In good news, the proponent, Clean Agriculture and International Tourism, has since backed down on its plans to bulldoze almost 1000 hectares of vital savanna at Auvergne Station to grow water guzzling cotton crops. It means this battle was won before it started, and we’ve discontinued our litigation.
But our precious savanna isn’t out of the woods yet. The Northern Territory government has earmarked 100 times that amount for destruction, a whopping 100,000 hectares of savanna bulldozed and burned for crops and cotton.
The Northern Territory has some of the largest intact savanna remaining on earth.
But our savanna is in crisis. Like the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a vital ecosystem that’s literally collapsing before our eyes.
The commercial cotton industry has had its sights set on the Northern Territory for years.
Clean Agriculture and International Tourism (CAIT), a multinational corporation that operates Auvergne Station near the Victoria River, is one of several companies with plans for cotton production in the NT.
In 2022, the NT Pastoral Land Board permitted Clean Agriculture and International Tourism to raze 923 hectares of savanna at Auvergne Station, part of which is for cotton.
On behalf of ECNT, we launched a challenge arguing the permit is invalid because growing cotton is not a “pastoral purpose” under the Pastoral Land Act.
Faced with looming litigation, CAIT applied to have its own permit revoked. We have discontinued our litigation as a result.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
While one battle to protect savanna woodlands at Auvergne might be over, the next one is looming as the Northern Territory government moves to prioritise the profit of multinational corporations.
Just as ECNT – and separately, the Northern Land Council – have sought to use existing laws to protect threatened woodland savanna at Auvergne, the NT government is attempting to re-write the rules to favour cotton producers.
The Northern Territory government has just released its Agribusiness Strategy. It includes a proposal to radically change pastoral land rights to enable cropping. This may hugely impact the potential for future legal action against land clearing and native vegetation destruction.
These law reforms appear to undermine genuine consultation with native title holders and circumvent proper scrutiny from environment groups.
It’s a rapidly evolving situation – so we’re keeping a close eye on things.
MEET THE CLIENT
We’re representing the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT), the NT’s peak conservation body.
Established in 1983, for almost forty years they’ve led powerful campaigns for nature, worked alongside First Nations communities fighting for justice, and held government and corporations to account for ecological harms.
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Environmental Justice Australia is ECNT’s legal team.
We are a public interest legal organisation.
We’re passionate about empowering people to participate in environmental decision making.
We believe together, we can create a world that works for all of us (and not just some of us).