Last Updated: December 1, 2016

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Water reforms passed – exemption from public scrutiny for Adani and retrospective dewatering approval

10 November 2016

The Queensland Parliament last night passed both the:

  • Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (EPOLA Bill); and
  • Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (WLA Bill).

The Bills introduce some improvements to the transparency and rigour of water regulation in Queensland and return access to justice for many concerned about groundwater impacts from mines.

However, two last minute amendments are highly concerning as to their impact on proper management of our water resources in Queensland from mining impacts, and suggest regulatory capture:

X   Exemption for Adani from public and Court scrutiny of groundwater impacts of Carmichael coal mine

  • Adani will be required to obtain an associated water licence to dewater their pit for Carmichael coal mine, but a carve-out has been created which would most likely mean Adani’s associated water licence will not be required to be subject to normal public notification, submissions or third party merits appeals applicable to any other water licence.
  • Instead, the Director-General of DNRM will be required to consult with the Director-General of DEHP on whether to approve the associated water licence. The Director-General of DEHP will be directed by Minister Miles to consult with an expert panel in making this decision.

X   Retrospective approval of dewatering activities for many mines in Qld!

  • Retrospective approval was legislated of associated water take and interference which has occurred since 2003. This demonstrates major oversight by DNRM in the regulation of mining water use, and more favours to mining.
  • Minister Lynham states in his second reading speech that ‘an administrative approach was adopted to not issue licences for certain dewatering activities that were considered to have little or no impact on other water users or springs’. This ‘was not lawful’ and consequently ‘a number of existing mining operations have been taking or interfering with associated water for many years without the appropriate water authorisations’.

EDO Qld is seeking an explanation from the government as to how this administrative oversight arose and how the government intends on ensuring the sustainable management of our groundwater in light of this unregulated take or interference by the mining industry. 

Apart from these highly concerning last minute amendments, some improvements in management of water in Queensland were also passed: 

✓   Return of access to justice and proper impact assessment for many affected by proposed mines in Qld, including for New Acland expansion and Alpha coal mine – to make up for introduction of statutory right to associated water and removal of water licence requirement

  • Future mining, petroleum and gas companies will be subject to strengthened assessment of groundwater impacts under their environmental authority assessment;
  • All mining proposals that are currently being assessed which would normally require a water licence for dewatering their pit/s under the law today will still require an associated water licence involving further assessment of groundwater impacts; and
  • Acland mine, Alpha and Kevin’s Corner will be subject to public notification and appeal rights for any associated water licence they require. Carmichael coal mine is the only mine which we are aware will likely be exempt from the public notification and appeal rights which normally apply to a water licence assessment.

 ✓   Return to more responsible management of water use in Qld considering principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD)

  • The principles of ESD will be a required consideration for assessment of water allocation and licensing applications (however not for associated water licences).
  • The water development option was repealed – this would have enabled large-scale water users to receive a guarantee from government of their access to large amounts of water prior to the completion of an assessment of the impacts of that water take;
  • The ability to deregulate the take or interference of water from certain declared watercourses was also repealed.

EDO Qld have worked tirelessly to assist these two Bills in being passed and to try to prevent them from being significantly weakened.

Thank you to all of those supporters who assisted in these efforts by putting the pressure on our parliamentary representatives to protect community rights and the environment in the water reforms. An impressive effort was put in with very little notice which we have no doubt helped get these Bills over the line.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us on adminqld@edoqld.org.au.

See also public statement from EDO Qld CEO Jo Bragg, “Qld Labor exempts Adani mine from public submission and appeals on groundwater.”