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A new Darwin port industrial hub spruiked by the deputy prime minister could have severe impacts on human health, a Northern Territory government environmental report says.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce on Tuesday announced $1.5 billion to transform Middle Arm Peninsula into a world-leading gas, hydrogen and minerals processing and export precinct.
The proposed NT-led development also includes a petrochemicals plant for plastic, pesticide and fertiliser production.
However a giant spanner has been thrown in the works, casting doubt about the government's plans ahead of a federal election.
The nationally significant infrastructure project is set to create 20,000 jobs and turbocharge the regional economy, the NT government says.
But an NT risk assessment released the same day says the hub could have "significant adverse impacts" on community health.
The report also found air quality in the area may be significantly impacted.
The Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct is about 3km southwest of Palmerston and 13km southeast of Darwin, which have a combined population of about 160,000.
Soil and water quality could also suffer if erosion, leaks, discharge of wastewater or spills of hazardous materials occur.
Threatened species and sensitive vegetation might be adversely affected when the site, which is about the size of 750 AFL ovals, is cleared.
The potential threats were identified in a risk assessment the NT government was required to submit under the environmental approvals process.
It also flagged potential damage to the seabed and marine ecosystems during dredging, infrastructure construction and shipping operations.
The slated development would also likely stop the NT achieving its greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Indigenous sacred sites could be impacted during dredging, land clearing, shipping and industrial operations, the report found.
New port vital for strategic interests after China lease
The new plan comes after the state government effectively sold the city's existing port to a Chinese-owned company for a little over $500 million in 2015 – a decision ultimately backed by the Morrison government.
Darwin's existing port was controversially leased to Chinese company Landbridge for 99 years.
Mr Joyce says the new project is vital for Australia's strategic interests amid growing geopolitical tensions and will help develop Darwin into a gateway to the wealth of Southeast Asia.
The taxpayer funds have been earmarked to help build port infrastructure, including a wharf and offloading facility.
Mr Joyce says it's likely to lead to more than $16 billion in private sector investment.
The investment promise also includes $440 million to build logistics hubs at Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, and $200 million to develop a rail spur and new road network.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley says ongoing assessment will enable the commonwealth and NT governments to identify environmentally significant areas and reduce impacts.
"The Morrison government is committed to assessment and approval processes that protect the environment without creating unnecessary duplication and delay that can cost our economy millions of dollars and jobs," she said.
Local activist group, Environment Centre NT, says the project is not sustainable and Territorians don't want toxic industries on their doorstep.
"It is outrageous that this plan is being called 'sustainable development' when it is really about Morrison government funding for the fossil fuel industry, that's leading us to hotter temperatures and more extreme weather events," campaign manager Jason Fowler said.
He said industrialisation in Middle Arm is also likely to lead to 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 the Santos-led Darwin LNG and INPEX-led Ichthys LNG onshore processing facilities operate.
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