Safe Drinking Water In Northern Territory

Australian Greens

As stated by Asta Hill:

Water quality

Right now, there are no enforceable drinking water quality standards throughout the Northern Territory. Power and Water signed an MOU with the Department of Health (which we think expired in 2015) to comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (but they are not enforceable).

There are 18 gazetted license areas which include major towns and regional centres. Outside these areas, the supply of water is not licensed (like in remote communities). Which means there are no conditions (if any) on a license to enforce.

“And for the remote communities outside of the 18 towns and regional centres subject to water supply licences with Power and Water Corporation, water provision is not even subject to license. This means, for those communities there are no conditions (if any) on a license to enforce.”

– The majority of remote communities are serviced by Indigenous Essential Services which is a subsidiary of Power and Water. But it is not a licensee under the WSSS Act.

This creates a contractual, statutory and regulatory lacuna in terms of water governance for remote communities.

“Obviously, this disproportionately impacts Aboriginal communities, who currently have no guarantee of the quality of their drinking water, and no mechanism to ensure improvements to water quality. We have a serious problem in which the government’s disempowerment of our first peoples extends to the provision of life sustaining water.”

“The ongoing racialised governance of water quality is an indictment on this government.”

“The Productivity Commission made clear and compelling recommendations to the Labor government in 2021.”

“This government had 3 years, with a strong majority, to pass legislation that would implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendations. Instead, by kicking the can down the road until after the 2024 election, these critical reforms depend on Labor’s success at the election, which is by no means certain.”

“What sort of message are we sending to remote Territorians, when we know they are drinking low-quality water, in some cases contaminated with toxins like uranium, yet we refuse to do anything about it?”

“It’s simple. What we need is a clear and enforceable regulatory framework, that is the same for every community, town or bush, across the Territory, and we need to act when water quality fails to meet these standards.”

“Only in the Territory does the place you live determine your human right to safe drinking water.”

Water security

“In the Territory, we have no legislative provision which states that the provision of safe drinking water takes precedence over other uses, like mining and agricultural industries. It’s yet another devastating example of our government prioritising big business over the basic needs of people.”

“We have no laws stating that provision of drinking water to people is more important than agriculture or mining. And no publicly available data on water security in the NT. So we have no reliable sense of how bad the problem is, and no guarantee the government won’t make it much worse.”

“Here in the desert, water scarcity penetrates the psyche of so many Territorians. Except those who govern.”

Lawler’s announcement –

“We already know water supplied by government owned Power and Water Corporation to 63 out of 72 remote communities doesn’t meet Australian standards for drinking water. What is missing is the political will to improve water quality.”

“This announcement does not appear to be actually about improving water testing or quality across the Territory, but more about helping a private company trial new equipment they can make a buck from interstate.”

Plibersek announcement

“It’s impossible to tell whether the asymmetrical allocation of funds to the Top End is fair, because the government hasn’t released a water quality report to the public since 2022. The community deserves transparency.”

/Public Release. View in full here.