Law Reform · Healthy Communities

Big mines slurp up water under Water Act amendments

25 November, 2014

Queensland Parliament is considers Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014

Everybody knows that water is necessary for life. All plants and animals must have water to survive. 

Tonight the Queensland Parliament is considering the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. Amongst other matters, this Bill proposes to reduce assessment and regulation of water taken by big mining projects.

Solicitor Revel Pointon of Environmental Defenders Office Qld (EDO Qld) says this is a shockingly risky move and the EDO opposes it as bad for rural communities and bad for the natural environment.

“By the nature of groundwater systems, impacts invariably extend well beyond the limits of any project area”, she said.

In the recent Alpha Coal case it was established by the Queensland Land Court that Hancock had not adequately studied the hydrogeological characteristics or impacts of their proposed mining operations on the groundwater outside of the mining site.

The Land Court held that consequently the mine project should be refused, or approved on the condition that the mine undergo assessment and successfully obtain licences under the Water Act.

Ms Pointon explained that the Alpha case shows a need for more regulation of water taken by mines, not less.

"Under the amendments proposed in the Water Bill, mines will no longer need to undertake this further assessment, shown to be necessary in the Alpha coal case", she said.

“We also remind people that most public objection rights to the Land Court were stripped away in September, reducing chances for the community to scrutinise the impacts of mining in the independent Land Court”.

The new Bill also removes ‘ecologically sustainable development’ (ESD) as one of the purposes of the Act. This is in direct contradiction to promises our Australian and Queensland Government are making to UNESCO in relation to protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The recently released draft Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan specifically stated that ESD, and the precautionary principle, underpin government decision making.

Ms Pointon noted further concern about last minute unseen proposed amendments to this Bill to retrospectively validate expired water licences where part of the property has been sold.

“We need more information with respect to who this proposal is intended to benefit, how it would operate and the kind of volumes of water that may be involved, to determine our view”, she said.

Ms. Pointon called on Minister Cripps to remove provisions of the Bill giving these special rights to mining interests and not to rush through last minute amendments without first specifying who will benefit and the location and quantity of water to be extracted, so that the proposal can be debated in an informed fashion.