Sacred sites at risk in federally-backed Darwin Harbor plan

A new industrial hub at the Port of Darwin set up by the Deputy Prime Minister could have serious implications for human health, according to an environmental report by the Northern Territory Government.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce on Tuesday announced $1.5 billion to transform the Middle Arm Peninsula into a world-leading gas, hydrogen and mineral processing and export zone.

The proposed development led by NT also includes a petrochemical plant for the production of plastics, pesticides and fertilizers.

The nationally significant infrastructure project is expected to create 20,000 jobs and boost the regional economy, according to the Government of the Northern Territories.

But an NT risk assessment released the same day says the hub could have “significant negative impacts” on community health.

The report also revealed that the air quality in the region could be significantly affected.

The Middle Arm Sustainable Development District is approximately 3 km south-west of Palmerston and 13 km south-east of Darwin, which have a combined population of approximately 160,000.

Soil and water quality could also suffer from erosion, leaks, sewage spills, or hazardous material spills.

Threatened species and sensitive vegetation could be affected when the site, which is about the size of 750 AFL ovals, is cleared.

The potential threats were identified in a risk assessment which the Government of the Northern Territories was required to submit as part of the environmental approval process.

He also pointed to potential damage to the seabed and marine ecosystems during dredging, infrastructure construction and shipping operations.

The planned development would also likely prevent the NT from meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Native sacred sites could be impacted during dredging, land clearing, shipping and industrial operations, according to the report.

Darwin’s existing port was controversially leased to Chinese firm Landbridge for 99 years by the territory’s government in 2015.

Mr Joyce said the new project is vital to Australia’s strategic interests amid growing geopolitical tensions and will help establish Darwin as a gateway to the wealth of Southeast Asia.

Taxpayer funds have been earmarked for the construction of port infrastructure, including a wharf and offloading facility.

Mr. Joyce says this will likely result in more than $16 billion in private sector investment.

The investment pledge also includes $440 million to build logistics centers in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, and $200 million to develop a rail spur and a new road network.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the ongoing assessment will allow Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to identify environmentally significant areas and reduce impacts.

“The Morrison government is committed to putting in place assessment and approval processes that protect the environment without creating unnecessary duplication and delays that can cost our economy millions of dollars and jobs,” she said.

Local activist group Environment Center NT says the project is unsustainable and Territorians don’t want toxic industries on their doorstep.

“It is outrageous that this plan is called ‘sustainable development’ when in reality it is Morrison government funding for the fossil fuel industry, leading us to warmer temperatures and events more extreme weather,” campaign manager Jason Fowler said.

He said the industrialization of Middle Arm would also result in the loss of mangroves and species such as turtles, dugongs and dolphins.

The Middle Arm Peninsula is already home to a liquefied natural gas hub, where onshore processing facilities Darwin LNG run by Santos and Ichthys LNG run by INPEX operate.

  • Story by Aaron Bunch, AAP