Media Releases - 12 January 2023

Shocking footage of NT deforestation and land clearing reveals urgency to create strong nature laws

Unapproved land clearing on the banks of the Daly, Claravale Station, in the Northern Territory.

The Wilderness Society provides the following statement about the ABC’s 7.30 feature on allegations of unlawful deforestation for cotton farming in the Northern Territory.

The ABC 7.30 feature, published on 11 January 2023, exposes large-scale deforestation to make way for the emerging cotton industry in the Northern Territory, some of which took place without any Commonwealth government assessment. The Wilderness Society, which provided access to and analysis of the satellite data showing vegetation changes, commends the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT) for its important work in uncovering inappropriate development in the Territory.

Wilderness Society Senior Campaigner Jenita Enevoldsen says: “This satellite data shows that the cotton industry is destroying some of the territory’s globally significant, intact tropical savannahs.

“Deforestation is out of control in Australia and is a key driver of the nation’s wildlife extinction crisis.

“This is why protecting forests and woodlands from extensive bulldozing is an essential component of the reform of national environment laws.

“As explained on 7.30, despite there being questions over the lawfulness of some of the deforestation, it was rubber-stamped after the fact by local authorities There was a total disregard for community rights and loss of habitat for federally-listed native plants and animals.

“Under the current policy, pastoralists are ‘self-assessing’ whether bulldozing savannah forests and woodlands will have an impact on matters of national environmental significance. This is a clear conflict of interest, especially while the public lacks the right to participate in these decisions. There is also an absence of Commonwealth oversight, with this clearing not being properly assessed under national nature laws.

“The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not have basic protections in place, like native vegetation laws or a biodiversity strategy. As very little of the territory’s savannah biodiversity has been documented, cotton farmers effectively don’t know what species habitat they might be destroying.

“It’s essential the Northern Territory government creates strong laws that protect nature and guarantee community rights. It is also urgent to introduce a national deforestation trigger when the EPBC Act is reformed, as promised by the Albanese government. Large-scale land clearing like this shouldn’t be able to go ahead without proper oversight. A land clearing trigger is needed to halt destruction, if critical habitat or matters of national environmental significance are under threat.

“If we had stronger nature laws nationally, including a land clearing trigger built into an integrated biodiversity data and compliance system, this large-scale bulldozing should have triggered action from the Commonwealth government. These are the kind of systemic changes we need in the reform of Australia’s national nature laws, if the Albanese Government is to deliver on its promises to halt the extinction crisis, and to restore community trust and confidence in environmental decision-making.”

For more information please call Jenita Enevoldsen on: 0405 941 500