Press Release - February 13, 2023

Environment group takes NT government to court over land clearing for cotton

February 13, 2023

The Environment Centre NT (ECNT), the Northern Territory’s peak conservation body, is taking the NT government to the Supreme Court, in a landmark challenge to a corporation’s plans to clear ecologically important tropical savanna to grow cotton.

Under powers given to it by the NT government, the NT Pastoral Land Board last year permitted multinational corporation Clean Agriculture and International Tourism to clear 923.33 hectares at Auvergne Station in the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory.

ECNT, represented by Environmental Justice Australia, will argue this land clearing permit is invalid, and the proponent’s cotton plans require better environmental assessment.

This is the first time a Court will test the Territory’s land clearing laws in the Pastoral Land Act. It could set a vital precedent to ensure the rapidly expanding cotton industry cannot continue to clear land without proper oversight, assessment of the risks of environmental harm or notification to native title holders.

If successful, this case could help protect some of the largest remaining intact savanna on earth – and prevent big cotton and industrial agriculture from devastating ecologically important ecosystems on country cared for by Traditional Owners for millennia.

The Northern Land Council has also commenced legal proceedings in the Supreme Court challenging the same land clearing permit.

Executive Director of ECNT, Kirsty Howey said:

“The Northern Territory’s savanna is a national treasure, part of a largely intact ecosystem stretching from Cape York to the Kimberley. But it is in crisis. Like the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a vital ecosystem that’s literally collapsing before our eyes. The Northern Territory government should be doing all it can to protect it.

“Right now, land clearing is skyrocketing in the Northern Territory, spurred in part by the cotton industry’s huge expansion plans. Land clearing is the biggest threat to biodiversity in Australia, and clearing for cotton will decimate local wildlife, impact rivers, and add to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We don’t want another Murray Darling Basin here in the Territory.”

“We’re taking on these landmark legal proceedings because we believe the Pastoral Land Board has failed to uphold the law in granting a land clearing permit for cotton at Auvergne Station.

“If we are successful, this will be a wake-up call to the cotton industry. Cotton growers in the Northern Territory will no longer be able to bulldoze our precious savanna without proper oversight, and proposals to grow cotton will need to undergo additional scrutiny.”

Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, Laura Dreyfus said:

“Land clearing and habitat destruction is pushing Australia’s plants and animals to the brink. It’s a key contributor to entire ecosystems collapsing, and the biggest cause of animals and plants ending up on Australia’s threatened species list. The bulldozers are moving in on the NT’s savanna at an alarming rate,”

“Land clearing is skyrocketing, much of it without proper oversight or scrutiny. Our client is taking the matter to court to hold the NT government and big cotton producers accountable, and to try and prevent environmental devastation before it’s too late.

“This is the first time land clearing laws under the Pastoral Land Act have been tested in court. If this case is successful, it could set a vital precedent for how land clearing applications are assessed and help ensure potential impacts to ecosystems already on the brink are properly accounted for.”

For media enquiries contact Kathryn Lewis ([email protected] and 03 8341 3110)