The Central Land Council has urged the NT Government to withdraw a raft of controversial legislative amendments designed to further undermine the already weak protections of the Territory’s water.

The council is seeking the withdrawal of the proposed Territory Economic Reconstruction Committee (TERC) Omnibus Bill and the Environmental Law Bills which are due to be tabled at the August sittings of the Legislative Assembly and would significantly amend the NT Water Act 1992.

“The government must withdraw all water-related amendments until it has released a comprehensive water reform strategy for public scrutiny,” CLC chief executive Lesley Turner said.

The CLC is concerned the proposed changes fast track development but neglect urgently needed reforms to protect remote community drinking water, create a genuinely independent water regulator and overhaul water planning processes to make them more transparent.

“We are very concerned that the proposed amendments will further lower the bar for water licence approvals and shift ministerial oversight to unelected public servants,” Mr Turner said.

“The changes will make it easier for developers and speculators to get 30-year groundwater licences for free and for the responsible minister to shift accountability for decisions to the unelected water controller.”

The CLC has written to the Chief Minister to protest about the lack of public consultation about the proposed changes and the inadequate information about the bills it has received since it met with senior government staffers and the water controller in early June.

“Staff of the Department of Environment assured us that no further legislative reform would proceed without consultation,” Mr Turner said.
“We are appalled to find more substantive amendments to the Water Act published on the department’s website, without notice, just weeks later.

“Having failed to properly inform traditional landowners and invite public comment the government now seems intent on preventing us all from considering the wide-ranging implications of the proposed legislation,” Mr Turner said.

“What happened to the chief minister’s commitment to transparent government?”

Under the current Water Act the water minister must identify special circumstances, for example that the scientific understanding of a water resource is well established and certain, before granting licences for more than 10 years.

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