The native title holders for an outback station in the Northern Territory will ask the Supreme Court to set aside a government decision to allow the use of groundwater for a planned 3500-hectare fruit and vegetable project.
The Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation is seeking to overturn the decision by NT Families Minister Kate Worden to grant Fortune Agribusiness a 30-year groundwater extraction licence for Singleton Station, 380 north of Alice Springs, for up to 40 gigalitres per year.
The Central Land Council, which is acting on behalf of Mpwerempwer, said the court would be asked to declare parts of the extraction licence invalid or to quash it altogether.
"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," council Chief Executive Les Turner said.
"The water licence decision is unconscionable considering the impacts of climate change on highly vulnerable desert communities."
Mr Turner said Ms Worden, acting as the delegate of NT Water Security Minister Eva Lawler, also failed to give Mpwerempwer procedural fairness.
In November last year, and after advice from an independent review panel, Ms Worden set aside Fortune's original extraction licence, granted in April, and substituted a new one with additional conditions.
They included a detailed assessment of the water resources on Singleton Station, a cultural values impact assessment, and extended stage one of the project from two to three years.
She said once fully operational the plan to grow fruits and vegetables on the station would support 110 permanent jobs and 1350 seasonal jobs and would significantly increase the Territory's horticultural output.
Fortune Agribusiness said the conditions under the new licence were comprehensive and stringent and it was committed to meeting all the requirements.
"We recognise the importance of water security and sound environmental management to all Territorians and indeed for the project itself," Chairman Peter Wood said in November.
"From the outset, Fortune Agribusiness has been committed to engaging and working closely with the Traditional Owners and the Central Land Council and will be continuing to do so throughout the life of the project.
"We believe in working together collaboratively and meaningfully to build a world-class food production precinct."
The Singleton project is planned to grow a range of annual and perennial crops including melons, mandarins, onions and avocados.
Australian Associated Press
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