“The Queensland Parliament has passed last minute amendments to the Labor Government’s groundwater protection laws. The effect is that the public, be they conservation groups or local landholders, won’t have any submission or appeal rights on groundwater licences relating to the Adani Carmichael mine," says EDO Qld CEO Jo Bragg.
The Queensland Labor government last night passed the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (EPOLA Bill) and Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (WLA Bill).
Adani will still be required to obtain an associated water licence, introduced through the EPOLA Bill. However, an exemption has been explicitly carved out for Adani which removes the public and the Court’s power to undertake normal scrutiny of this licence.
Other mining proposals, such as New Acland Stage 3, Alpha and Kevin’s Corner coal mines will be required to obtain associated water licences that will be subject to normal public submission and appeal rights.
A new provision was also inserted to ensure that the Director-General of the DNRM must consult with the Director-General of DEHP when deciding whether to approve an associated water licence.
Minister Miles stated in his second reading speech that the Director-General of DEHP would be guided by an expert panel in this consideration. This provides a small consolation against the loss of proper public scrutiny of groundwater impacts proposed by the massive Carmichael mine.
"The EPOLA Bill as originally tabled by the State government was intended to improve groundwater assessment and stop Newman-era changes that removed licensing requirements for mines from taking effect," said Ms Bragg.
"So it's gravely concerning that on the most controversial proposed coal mine in Australia, the ALP government has now moved amendments which remove the check and balance of public submissions and appeals relating to groundwater impacts.
“It is a myth that the EPOLA Bill would cause unfair delays to miners stemming from its new requirements. For many years mines have needed water licences, subject to public appeal, to utilise groundwater under the Water Act in Queensland.
“What we know for certain around water management is that we do not properly understand how our groundwater basins operate. Rigorous assessment of proposed impacts is essential.
"We are at least gladdened to see that the strengthened groundwater impact assessment for environmental authorities has been passed in EPOLA for future mining, petroleum and gas projects.
"Also, it is good news that the WLA Bill was passed, which reintroduces the principles of ecologically sustainable development into water licence and allocation decision making, removes the risky water development option, and removes the ability to deregulate watercourses.
"It is, however, unfortunate that the government did not consider that associated water licences should also be subject to principles of ESD in their assessment, when they will apply to every other water licence and allocation.
"We have had some small concessions for those farmers, other landholders and the environments dependent on our groundwater systems. The government and those politicians who value protection of agriculture and the environment over private for profit mining companies should not support this last minute amendment in favor of poor, rushed assessment for Adani."
For more information, check out our handy explainer, "Water reforms passed – exemption from public scrutiny for Adani and retrospective dewatering approval demonstrate regulatory capture by mining industry."