Traditional owner representatives will only get 45 minutes to make their case against the massive Singleton Station water licence during a secretive review panel hearing and have been barred from listening to the other opponents and the proponents of the licence.
The public and the media are excluded from the hearing on Friday, 3 September, in Darwin which will review the controversial 40,000 megalitre-a-year, 30 year licence decision.
Fortune Agribusiness, the company that wants to use the water to grow export crops in the desert, and the government department that supported the grant of the licence will appear before the panel in secret, without any interested parties present.
“The public and the landowners are being kept in the dark about the most audacious attempt to give away a public resource to big business in the Territory’s history,” Central Land Council chief executive Lesley Turner said.
To make matters worse, the licence review is being rushed through before a review of the region’s water allocation plan that must conclude at the end of this year.
The existing plan rates the risk of changes to future estimates of water availability as ”extreme” and the new plan could include a much lower estimate of the amount of water available for Fortune Agribusiness’ and other development projects.
“This hasty process illustrates everything that’s rotten about NT water policy,” Mr Turner said.
“We provided hundreds of pages of expert evidence about sacred sites threatened by the NT’s largest-ever water licence and about very concerning hydrogeological problems, but our lawyer gets less than an hour to present on highly complex issues and answer questions.”
The CLC’s request to listen to the presentations from other applicants has also been declined.
“This is even though a recent four-hour review hearing about two water licences at Larrimah allowed applicants to be present for the entire hearing. What are they trying to hide about Singleton?”
The other applicants to the Singleton licence review panel hearing, the Centrefarm Aboriginal Horticulture, the Environment Centre NT and the Arid Land Environment Centre, also have just 45 minutes each to present new information and respond to questions.
In the case of the Larrimah water licence decisions the report from the review panel to the Environment Minister Eva Lawler was kept secret.
“We fully expect that the panel’s report about Singleton will meet the same fate but we appeal to her to do the right thing and make the report publicly available,” said Mr Turner.