New groundwater laws for mining enshrine exceptions for Adani
After a 35 year career in natural resource and water management, I have never been as worried as I am now about potential damage to Queensland’s most valuable asset; groundwater.
Last week the Queensland Parliament settled on a new water management regime for mining in Queensland. Sadly, it is not much of a surprise that Adani received special and preferential treatment once again.
This new regime softens the Newman LNP Government water laws that proposed to allow mining companies to have unlimited, unlicensed access to Queensland’s groundwater without public scrutiny.
The ALP pledged before the last election to repeal Newman’s water laws, citing impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and unsustainable depletion of groundwater. However, on taking power they did not repeal the laws, only deferred their commencement to December 2016.
The Palaszczuk Government, trying to appease both farmers and the mining lobby, amended Newman’s laws in the early hours of last Thursday morning, handing last minute concessions to Adani’s Carmichael project.
The changes include some welcome relief from the worst excesses of Newman’s laws. Changes to the ‘Make Good’ agreement framework that now provide some equity and protection to landholders in their dealings with the resource industry. The principles of ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development’ (ESD) were also reinstated for general water licences and allocation – a vital step to ensure water resources are not destroyed. The fact the LNP cried foul over this shows they see our groundwater systems as some sort of ‘magic pudding’ that will just keep providing, no matter what.
The laws will ensure that current mining projects mid-assessment will still require an Associated Water Licence (AWL) to assess their groundwater impacts. Reasonable? Yes, in fact it’s absolutely critical considering the amount of water these mines drain from aquifers. However, it is concerning that AWLs will not be assessed against principles of ESD like any other water licence.
However, the Palaszczuk Government introduced a last minute amendment that granted the Adani Carmichael Mine an exemption. Adani will still need to obtain a licence, but that licence will be exempt from public notification, public submissions and objection rights.
It’s unclear why Adani has a special exemption when the Government has decided other mine proposals, like New Hope’s Acland project and GVK Hancock’s Alpha mine, are suitable for public involvement. This lack of transparency for Adani is bizarre and begs the question: what is there to hide?
The laws as passed also mean that future mining projects will not require any licence or judicial court scrutiny for groundwater take by dewatering their pits, another red flag for the current law.
Our parliamentarians need to think very carefully about the legacy they leave to this state. The Queensland Government must guarantee that all mining developments now and into the future need a groundwater licence. They also need to value the public’s input and appeal rights that empower landholders to protect their valuable bore water and livelihoods, and apply these laws equally without making special exceptions for preferred projects.
– Tom Crothers was a Senior Queensland Bureaucrat for Water Allocation and Planning in the Department of Environment and Resource Management. He is now a director of Stella Advisory Services