Labor’s water bills don’t go far enough

Opinion
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Opinion: Basin Sustainability Alliance chair, Lee McNicholl says Labor's recent water bills don't do enough to protect landholders.

The Basin Sustainability Alliance {BSA} commends Bruce Currie’s opinion piece (QCL 6 Oct) and supports the basic principles he is fighting for. For too long – Galilee Basin landholders have lived with the debilitating uncertainty of the potential impacts of proposed coal mines on their stock & domestic water supplies. If all nine proposed Galilee Basin coal mines are developed - up to 2000GL (four Sydney Harbours) of groundwater could be extracted,  impacting more than 500 landholder’s stock and domestic water bores as well as potentially destroying nationally listed GAB springs complexes. The continued failure of successive Queensland Governments to address the cumulative water impacts of the proposed Galilee Basin mines is completely irresponsible.  

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In 2014, three “heroic” landholders won a Land Court appeal against the proposed GVK/Hancock Alpha Mine. The Court recommended to the then Minister for Mines (Andrew Cripps) that the Alpha Mine lease be either rejected, or be granted only after GVK/Hancock met strict conditions, including licences to take water from the aquifers and the negotiation of “make good agreements”.

Andrew Cripps’ dictatorial response to these Land Court recommendations was to introduce the Common Provisions Act 2014 which restricted the rights and grounds of objection to a mining lease. He also introduced the WROLA Act 2014 which removed the requirement for miners to obtain water licences for dewatering purposes and granted them a “statutory right to take unlimited quantities of associated groundwater”. At the same time he removed landholder’s objection rights to the extraction of groundwater from under their land. 

On its election in February 2015, the Palaszczuk Government responsibly deferred the proclamation of the most appalling parts of Cripps’ WROLA Act. Subsequently, it has introduced two new Bills into the Parliament – the Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (WLA Bill) and the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (EPOLA Bill) to address some of the inequitable and discriminatory parts of Cripps’ groundwater legislation.

BSA has made detailed submissions on both of these Bills. While these Bills do make some significant and positive changes they don’t go far enough.

While the mining industries may be required to secure “associated water licences” to take or interfere with underground water in regulated groundwater areas, there will be no application of the “precautionary principle” of Ecologically Sustainable Development in the assessment of the water impacts of these projects. It’s important that we apply the principle – if we don’t understand the full impacts of a mine or gas development on our groundwater resources – then we shouldn’t let it go ahead.

In a cynical backflip this week the Palaszczuk Government announced that it had granted “critical infrastructure project status” to the Adani Mine. Once again, the BSA fears that hard won landholder’s objection rights to Adani’s underground water take will be seriously diminished by this unprecedented step to facilitate an unsustainable Indian owned mega mine.

It is now clear that both sides of the political fence have sold out any notion of sustainable and equitable water use policy for short term Treasury royalties. It’s no wonder that the Queensland public are rapidly losing faith in our “main stream” political parties. – Lee McNicholl, Chair – Basin Sustainability Alliance.

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