Darwin Harbour To Face More Industrialisation Under Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission Plan

Larrakia man Nigel Browne fondly remembers catching fish and mud crabs with his knowledgeable father, in the little-known pockets of Darwin Harbour as a boy.
“He knew where different fish species lived, different areas, where he would take me mud-crabbing in the mangroves — catching crabs by hand,” Mr Browne said.
Mr Browne, the chief executive of the Larrakia Development Corporation, said the places he visited as a boy no longer existed because of a gradual industrialisation of Darwin Harbour.
And proposals to further industrialise the harbour are a prominent feature of the NT Government’s latest plan, released on Tuesday, to help it recover economically over the next decade.
The new economic recovery strategy was drafted by the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission (TERC), set up by the NT Government and co-chaired by Andrew Liveris, former chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers.
The commission’s plan includes a proposed petrochemical precinct at Middle Arm, supported by development of the Beetaloo Basin.
Petrochemical plants convert natural gas into a range of end products, such as plastics, paint, detergents and fertilisers.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said this week he had accepted all of the TERC report’s recommendations — including measures to support investment in petrochemical manufacturing.
NT Government tender documents reveal further details about potential interest in the Middle Arm site for ammonia production, a possible urea plant, a methanol plant, mercury processing, hydrogen production and a minerals refinery for iron oretitanium and vanadium.
A spokesman for West Australian chemical company Coogee told the ABC its feasibility study for a methanol plant at the site was still underway and would be finalised early next year.
‘Concerns’ flagged by NT organisations
A coalition responding to the TERC’s plan — including the Environment Centre NT, the NT Council of Social Service and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union NT — likened the report to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Environment Centre NT co-director Kirsty Howey said the TERC’s report appeared to have been written by two different people, promoting gas and petrochemical industry growth alongside renewable energy targets.
“There are concerns around the world that this boom in the production of plastics by petrochemical plants could in fact lock in emissions for many years to come and prolong our dependence on fossil fuels,” Ms Howey said.
“This is exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing if we are decarbonising the economy.
“That simply cannot happen on any assessment if you entrench the gas industry, including prolonging the gas industry’s presence in the Northern Territory via a petrochemical plant.”
Call for scrutiny over petrochemical plant
Ms Howey also said there was a growing body of research about health risks related to petrochemical plants.
She used the example of an area in Louisiana dubbed “cancer alley” because of suspected cancer clusters related to the pollution created by the plants.
“Petrochemical plants are known to be extremely toxic, they produce large amounts of waste,” Ms Howey said.
“I’d call on the Government to, as soon as possible, ensure any proposed developments for the industrialisation of Darwin occur pursuant to the most stringent and transparent processes.
“The actual proposal for the petrochemical plant would need to be scrutinised carefully for the impacts on the harbour.”
Mr Browne also said he was frustrated there had been “zero consultation” with Larrakia people about a separate proposal within the Middle Arm precinct.
TNG Limited is awaiting environmental approval for its Mt Peake vanadium processing plant on the shores of the Elizabeth River, off Darwin Harbour.
Mr Browne said the company’s plans to use large amounts of fresh groundwater to process minerals and pump treated wastewater into the harbour did not sit well with Larrakia people.
“It may be great to announce that economic drivers related to the resource sector will be here for the next 30 or 40 years — Larrakia and other members of the Darwin community will be here for a lot longer than that,” Mr Browne said.
“We need to make sure that after that period there is still a harbour and a natural marine environment to continue to enjoy.