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Land Council returns to Traditional Owners for instructions following NT Court water decision

Giovanni Torre -

The Central Land Council acknowledged the NT Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to dismiss legal challenges to a controversial water licence, and plans to discuss the next move with Traditional Owners.

CLC chief executive Les Turner said the Council is considering the judgement carefully and will explain it to the native title holders and remote communities affected by the water licence and seek their instructions.

The court's decision comes two years after the native title holders' Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation asked it to set aside an NT government decision to grant the licence for Singleton Station for up to 40 gigalitres per year – the largest amount of groundwater the NT has ever given away – free of charge.

In February 2022, the corporation and the Arid Lands Environment Centre took court action against NT Minister Kate Worden's decision to grant co-defendant Fortune Agribusiness the 30-year groundwater extraction licence.

Acting on behalf of Mpwerempwer Aboriginal Corporation, the CLC argued that parts of the licence are invalid because the minister did not comply with the Northern Territory's Water Act and failed to consider Aboriginal cultural values, and because of other important matters.

"The water licence decision is unconscionable considering the impacts of climate change on highly vulnerable desert communities," Mr Turner said at the time.

The Central Land Council said on Wednesday that the groundwater licence decision highlights the need for "robust and transparent" water planning in the Territory.

In July 2022 an independent report led by University of South Australia water economics professor Jeff Connor analysed the business case put forward for Singleton by Fortune Agribusiness and found the company had overstated the benefits of the project and that the plan "delivers little" for the Northern Territory.

National Indigenous Times has contacted the NT government for comment.

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