The Federal Environment Department is investigating allegations of illegal Northern Territory land clearing

The federal government is investigating potentially illegal land clearing in the Northern Territory, where satellite images obtained by the ABC indicate swathes of unique savannas have been flattened to make room for the cotton industry.

Officials declined to say when the investigation would begin, but an investigation has been confirmed following an investigation by ABC 7.30 this week.

A spokesman for the federal Department of the Environment said it was working with the Northern Territory government “to determine whether this will be done [land clearing] Activities are in compliance with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), as well as relevant Territory legislation.”

Significant penalties apply for clearing land without consent if there are significant impacts on threatened species.

Individuals can be fined close to $1.5 million, while penalties for companies are up to $13.75 million and up to seven years in prison.

Land clearing is putting enormous pressure on Australia’s native flora and fauna, says Tanya Plibersek.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said reports of large-scale land clearing in the Northern Territory were “extremely troubling”.

“There should be serious consequences for anyone who does the wrong thing,” she told ABC.

A spokesperson for the Northern Territory government said the federal government had previously “sought advice” on clearance approval for one of the properties investigated by the ABC, following a complaint it received from the NT Environment Centre.

“The Federal Ministry has not informed the Northern Territory Government of any additional or new investigations,” the spokesperson said.

calls for a broader investigation

This week, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on the federal government to launch an urgent investigation into the allegations, citing “deep concern” about the Northern Territory government’s lack of response and the regulations currently in place.

“The NTG has so far failed to regulate, and is instead paving the way for a massive expansion of the cotton industry in this fragile ecosystem,” she said in a letter sent to Ms. Plebersk.

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