The corporation of the native title holders for Singleton Station, south of Tennant Creek, will today serve a claim against the Northern Territory Government.

The Mpwerempwer [pronounced emPUrra-empurra] Aboriginal Corporation is asking the NT Supreme Court to set aside NT Families Minister Kate Worden’s decision to grant Fortune Agribusiness a 30-year groundwater extraction licence for Singleton Station for up to 40 giga litres per year.

The controversial decision concerns the largest amount of groundwater the NT has ever given away – free of charge.

Fortune Agribusiness plans to grow thirsty crops in the desert, largely for export, and is a co-defendant in the claim in which the Central Land Council is acting on behalf of Mpwerempwer.

“We’re asking the court to declare parts of the extraction licence invalid or to quash it altogether,” CLC chief executive Les Turner said.

“We will show that the minister didn’t comply with the NT Water Act, failed to consider Aboriginal cultural values and other important matters, and that her decision was seriously irrational,” he said.

“We will argue that her decision is uncertain – not even a proper decision – because she left so many significant matters to be decided later.

“This uncertainty means that what Fortune Agribusiness is eventually allowed to do might be very different from what it proposed in its licence application.

“The water licence decision is unconscionable considering the impacts of climate change on highly vulnerable desert communities.”

Mr Turner said Minister Worden, acting as the delegate of NT Water Security Minister Eva Lawler, also failed to give Mpwerempwer procedural fairness.

In December the CLC asked the government not to grant any more licences in the water control district which includes Singleton Station until the Wester Davenport water allocation plan has been reviewed.

It called for the freeze due to its grave concerns about the over-allocation of groundwater.

Earlier this month Jo Townsend, the water controller and chief executive of the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security, told the CLC that she would defer her decisions on new or bigger water licences in the region until a new Western Davenport water allocation plan is declared.

Mr Turner commended that result, saying, “This buys more time to review the science of our aquifers so all the water isn’t given away. This includes Singleton”.

The CLC encourages the NT Government to incorporate scientific best practices in the new water allocation plan and ensure there is enough data to make robust licence decisions.

“More facts, more knowledge, more understanding of our aquifers is needed. Only then can Aboriginal cultural values and the environment be fully protected.”

16 February 2022