Media Releases - 04 September 2023

Meek fine handed down for unlawful clearing of globally significant savanna identified by the community

The NT government handed down a meek fine for unlawful clearing, exposed by community members, across the Yinberrie Hills Site of Conservation Significance—a breeding habitat for the largest known breeding population of endangered Gouldian finches.

“This unlawful clearing was only detected due to the efforts of concerned individuals of the Environmental Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT) and Territory Rivers Alliance, using The Wilderness Society’s citizen science satellite data tool, Watch on Nature," said Jenita Enevoldsen, Wilderness Society Senior Campaigner.

“Nearly two years after this unlawful clearing was found, and after community members dedicated hundreds of hours seeking access to justice, the final result was a fine—akin to a slap on the wrist.

“We need government monitoring and enforcement systems that can red-flag and halt unlawful clearing and deforestation overnight. All governments need to be willing to make examples of environmental offenders to send a message that this is unacceptable, and that means large penalties given transparently.

“The clearing and deforestation trends across the NT are incredibly concerning, rising over 300% since 2018. Without any third party rights or publicly available and accessible government monitoring programs in place, there is no quick and easy way of determining the legality of these activities.

“This is another example of why Australia, and increasingly the NT, are seen notoriously as global leaders in the extinction crisis; and how our territory and federal environmental laws need an urgent overhaul—as deforestation continues to impact our threatened species, like Gouldian finches, across Northern Australia.

Urgency for federal environment watchdog

“We urgently need new nature laws, strong national standards and monitoring systems that are going to immediately red-flag the bulldozing of threatened species' habitat, and evoke an immediate ‘stop work’ action from an environment watchdog—a federal EPA. And allow communities, through third party rights, to have direct legal justice mechanisms available if unlawful activity is found.

“An innovative solution to this problem is a national deforestation and ecological restoration monitoring program based on the latest remote sensing technology that includes regular, detailed data made publicly available—including raw GIS data, interactive maps and detailed breakdowns of vegetation extent, condition and loss by land use.

NT Government at a crossroads

“The NT government is at a crossroads and needs to rethink the zero-sum economics of its agribusiness strategy—in particular, the goal of clearing over 100,000ha of Top End globally significant savanna for cotton—as the industry impacts have been notorious elsewhere like the Baarka / Murray Darling for privatizing profits, and socializing losses like cultural heritage sites, water flow loss, and associated ecosystem services.

“Positive solutions for the NT government include developing a biodiversity and conservation strategy and enacting new NT nature laws to protect their globally significant savanna while strengthening community rights—seeking First Nations' and community input for what kinds of industries will create long-term jobs in the territory that communities want and need."

For comment, please contact Jenita Enevoldsen: 0405941500

Further info:

  • The NT has been rated as having the weakest community rights across the nation in our recent report “Who holds the power?” community rights in environmental decision-making (Check out the scorecard on page 5)

  • The Northern Territory’s savannah is the largest intact savanna ecosystem in the world, but is one of 19 collapsing ecosystems across Australia, with the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world

  • Land clearing rates have increased by 300% in the NT in the past 4 years, off the back of cotton industry expansion plans

  • ABC’s 7.30 Report revealed three separate instances of alleged unlawful land clearing in the NT by the cotton industry: at Tarwoo (where a cotton gin is being constructed), at Claravale Farm on the banks of the Daly River, and at Ucharonidge Station on the Barkly Tableland. In all cases, land clearing permits were granted after complaints were made by the Environment Centre NT and community members