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Water allocation concerns

Posted: Mon, April 07, 2014

PRECIOUS ASSET: Water over-allocation is becoming an issue in the Northern Territory.

NORTHERN Land Council Chief Executive Joe Morrison has described recent NT Government water allocation decisions in the Mataranka region as deeply concerning in terms of sustainability, Indigenous development and good public policy.

Mr Morrison said the NLC was concerned that previous Land Council worries about over-allocation, inequitable distribution and the creation of water monopolies were being realised.

The concerns relate to NT Government allocations of 9,700 megalitres, out of 12,000 available, to just two agricultural projects in the Mataranka region.

"Allocating this much water to just one or two licences is a recipe for disaster," Mr Morrison said.

"There are alarming similarities here to early planning mistakes made in the Murray Darling Basin and, in particular, how Indigenous interests are readily ignored or overridden."

"On the back of questions the Government faced over the Tina MacFarlane allocation, I ask, 'Is the Northern Territory Government refusing to hear advice on this matter?' ”

Mr Morrison reiterated concerns that Traditional Owners will be locked out of future allocations, and called on the government to implement Strategic Indigenous Reserves as a matter of priority.

"More disappointing is that the government is readily granting so much water to major agricultural interests and risking over-allocation, while denying the merit of strategic Indigenous reserves, which had been researched and designed by Indigenous people across northern Australia, over a long period of time," he said.

"The government cannot claim that it is giving Aboriginal development a fair go with water allocations when a small number of licences will potentially lock out Aboriginal people forever, especially when the aquifers in question are located mostly or partly under Aboriginal Land or where Aboriginal people have significant Native Title interests."

Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns being debated in the Northern Territory Parliament about resources and good public policy underpinning development in the bush.

"The current approach would create a clear path to massive over-allocation, and a huge impact on both the sustainability of the aquifers and the economic development aspirations of Traditional Owners in the region whose interests in development are being ignored," he said.

Mr Morrison said the NLC is considering its options on how best to engage with the Government on this crucial matter.