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The beautiful north

Will you take action to protect it?

Story by ACF August 4th, 2014

Northern australia at the crossroads

Our north is home to the largest, most intact tropical savannah systems left on earth, sweeping 2,500 kilometres from the Kimberley to Cape York – savannah woodlands and spinifex-clad ranges, fringed by beautiful coastal rainforests and coral reefs.

The extraordinary nature and culture of northern Australia is recognised with seven world and national heritage-listed sites: Kakadu, Uluru, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Coast, Purnululu, the Kimberley, and the Riversleigh Fossil Site. This underpins thousands of jobs in tourism.

Yet the north is under renewed threat from grandiose plans to build big dams, mines and shale gas fields. At the same time governments are winding back environmental safeguards.
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mines, gas fields, dams?

Powerful voices in government and big business are promoting a future of massive new dams, huge shale gas fields, fracking, extensive land clearing, more giant mines, ports and industrial development – fast tracked by weakening environment laws.

Relying only on big mining projects with fly in-fly out workers is risky. Companies can shut operations at short notice, leaving communities stranded. Much of the profits go overseas, while residents and taxpayers deal with the long-term legacy of degraded landscapes and toxic waste.

People of the north should not be forced to accept development which degrades their land, water or culture just to access to basic services other Australians take for granted.

“The promises never last, but the problems always do”

Senior Mirrar Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula stands on her country, just kilometres downstream from the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, where a million litres of radioactive slurry spilled from an aging tank .

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In October, the federal government will release a White Paper plan for the future development of northern Australia.

The citizen voices of 7338 Australian Conservation Foundation supporters from north and south spoke out for the north by making a submission to the taskforce preparing the plan.

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A mosaic of life-giving rivers threads this sun-baked country. In the short wet season they replenish waterholes and wetlands, then rest as sandy pools in the long, hot, dry season.

Yet northern Australia is littered with costly, failed, large-scale irrigation projects. Sensible small scale agricultural development is possible. The north can support high value horticultural crops like mangoes, and thriving prawn and fishing industries. But there’s no evidence northern Australia can ever become a food bowl.

We can’t afford to repeat mistakes made in southern Australia – like the costly and massive over-allocation of water in the Murray Darling – in a rush to develop the north.

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where nature and culture can thrive

A better future for people and nature in the north is to create a resilient and diverse economy. One that protects and manages the north’s intact savannah landscapes, free flowing rivers and wetlands – with jobs and income from tourism, clean energy, carbon farming, sustainable agriculture, arts, education, and land and water management.

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Indigenous Protected Area Rangers are caring for country – monitoring landscape health and managing fire across the north. Ranger groups help people find good jobs on country. At the same time, they protect biodiversity.

The future of the north holds more opportunity like this. The new White Paper plan needs to support it.

Let’s expand land and sea management capacity, especially the successful Indigenous Ranger program. Rangers are improving fire management, protecting rivers and wetlands, managing pests and weeds, and starting new carbon farming projects.

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protect the north

The federal government is planning the future development of northern Australia. A final White Paper plan will be released in October 2014.

Large miners made their views known. Australian Conservation Foundation supporters did too. We hope your voices can steer the plan toward a better future for people and nature.

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Footnote: Image credits: Bette Devine, Andrew Picone, Fairfax, Steven Nowakowski, Kerry Trapnell