The Queensland Labor Government is set to backtrack on an election pledge by keeping controversial water reforms designed to help big mining operations.
In the lead-up to this year’s state election, the ALP vowed it would scrap Newman government laws giving resources companies, including coal miners, the right to extract vast amounts of groundwater for their operations.
At the time, Labor described the package of reforms as “shameful” and “an utter disgrace”, warning they would have “a detrimental effect on the Great Barrier Reef catchment systems and allow for over-allocation of Queensland’s precious water resources”.
But a leaked document, from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, suggests the Palaszczuk Government has changed its tune significantly and is set to backflip on its commitment.
So our high expectation was that Labor would stick to the letter and the spirit of their commitments. But we’re deeply worried that the Minister now seems to have backtracked substantially, and largely is rolling out an agenda that the Liberal National Party will have been quite happy with.
Tim Seelig of the Wilderness Society
The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act (WROLA) was introduced by Campbell Newman’s LNP government in November last year.
Heated debate was sparked by Part 4 of the bill, which de-regulated the use of groundwater by resource companies, expanding on a model already enjoyed by coal seam gas operators in Queensland.
The changes would give the mining industry a statutory right to take associated underground water, or water that has to be removed to allow for the extraction of the resource. The public would no longer be able to challenge miners taking this groundwater.
Critics warned the new provisions would allow mining companies to take billions of litres of water without the need for a licence and could even have an impact on water supplies to regional towns.
While the act passed, it was not proclaimed before the January state election which saw the LNP lose office. If it is not amended or repealed, the act will come into force in November.
‘This is a shameful bill’
In the lead-up to the state election this year, Labor vowed to repeal the legislation, warning it would allow for too much water to be taken from the Great Artesian Basin and would harm the Great Barrier Reef.
“In essence, this is a shameful bill. It is an utter disgrace,” said Labor’s then-environment spokeswoman Jackie Trad, who is now Deputy Premier, during parliamentary debate on the bill in November.
But the leaked document from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines suggests key aspects of the water reforms will go ahead in order to implement “a more consistent framework for underground water rights and obligations”.
GVK Hancock’s Alpha Coal project at the the Galilee basin in central Queensland.
“[Ms Trad] certainly used extremely strong language in criticising the LNP’s legislation, and quite frankly it was a disgraceful approach to water resources,” Tim Seelig of the Wilderness Society said.
“So our high expectation was that Labor would stick to the letter and the spirit of their commitments. But we’re deeply worried that the Minister now seems to have backtracked substantially, and largely is rolling out an agenda that the Liberal National Party will have been quite happy with.”
The leaked document says the WROLA legislation would lead to “improved security of access to underground water for water supply bore owners and for resource operations”.
It warns that without the new laws there would be a “need to manage cumulative impacts of large coal mines in the Galilee”.
In November, Tom Crothers, head of the Queensland Government’s Water Allocation and Planning Group until 2011, told the ABC the bill would benefit companies proposing to mine coal in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland.
“The four mines that have been approved already will take potentially up to 1,770 gigalitres of water, that is over three-and-a-half Sydney Harbours, during their life,” he said.
“These are all bits of legislation aiding the big end of town ? the mining industry. And what happens is the little guy suffers.”
‘Underground water systems not protected’
The leaked document from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines says the reforms will provide “certainty for landholders and the resource sector. Statutory rights to groundwater for both the mines resources and [petroleum and gas] sectors will enable a consistent approach and provide certainty for landholders through make good obligations on resource tenure holders”.
These “make-good” provisions mirror requirements applied to the coal seam gas industry. But Mr Seelig warns this would not protect precious underground water systems.
“You can’t make good the complete destruction of springs and aquifers,” he said.
Sources have told the ABC that the Palaszczuk Government will move to scrap several other Newman government water reforms.
Labor is expected to overturn the LNP’s stripping of the principle of ecologically sustainable development from the Water Act, and it not go ahead with so-called water development options.
This would have allowed the Government to give major resource projects “an upfront commitment over future access to water and exclusivity of access for the project … before the start of the environmental impact assessment process”.
The office of the Natural Resources and Mines minister Anthony Lynham was contacted for comment on Monday. The ABC is still waiting for a response.
Source: ABC News