Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has asked the people of Queensland to judge his government on its performance. So let’s judge it on its approach to managing our most precious resource – water. Tom Crothers reports.
Since coming to office in March 2012 the Newman Government has removed the moratorium on water development on Cape York Peninsular before the Water Resource Plan had been developed. This allows landholders on the Cape to secure large quantities of water entitlement for minimal cost while the water plan is still being prepared.
Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps led the charge to repeal the Wild Rivers Act; legislation that protected the water quality of streams/rivers and prevented inappropriate development on adjoining floodplains in undeveloped river systems.
Minister Cripps also amended the Water Act to progressively dismantle Queensland’s water planning and allocation framework – recognised as one of the best frameworks in Australia. Cripps also amended the Mineral Resources Act, allowing miners unlimited interference and access to associated groundwater in their mining operations. This will potentially result in a decline or loss of water supplies for existing landholders and rural communities.
The government also removed the rights of the general public, local authorities and interest groups to object and appeal to the granting of an environmental authority (without an EA [environmental authority] the miners cannot commence water extraction) and the granting of a mining lease.
Minister Cripps’ department went on to amend the Cooper Creek Resource Operations Plan to allow the trading of large “sleeper” water licences without following the due processes of the Water Act 2000.
At Deputy Premier Seeney’s direction, Minister Cripps passed retrospective legislation to allow a sand and gravel operation in the Brisbane River (at Harlin) to continue excavations, thus ceasing a DNR&M compliance investigation for unauthorised removal of sand and gravel resource.
The Coordinator-General has approved the extraction of up to 1770GL of groundwater from the Galilee Basin aquifers by the Alpha, Kevin’s Corner, Galilee Coal and Carmichael mega coal mines. This will have significant impacts on the water supplies of up to 39 landholders with existing rights and livelihoods that depend on access to this water.
Minister Cripps ignored the recommendations of the landholder’s Land Court appeal to the Alpha Mine – which outlined that a “more cautious approach” be taken in the management of the Galilee Region’s groundwater resources and progressed legislation that allows miners a statutory right to access associated groundwater without and Water act approvals.
The heavily LNP stacked Agriculture, Resources and Environment Parliamentary Committee ignored stakeholder submissions to address the serious flaws in the current “Make Good Arrangements” framework for landholders impacted by mining and gas operations. The current framework is still seriously flawed and heavily slanted in favour of the Resources Industry.
The Newman Government has by no means finished dismantling good public policy. If returned to government next week it proposes two more significant changes. The first is to allow up to 522GL/annum of water to be taken from the Gilbert River and up to 385GL/annum to be taken from the Flinders River in the Gulf of Carpentaria for new irrigation projects. This will have unknown impacts on the Gulf’s barramundi and prawn fisheries.
The second is to allow fracking and the take of water from the GAB in the Cooper Basin for deep gas and oil production. Fracking has been banned in a number of States in the USA, including New York State due to identified health impacts. At risk is a clean, green beef industry and growing tourism sector.
The Newman Government has made much of its “Strong Plan” for Queensland. Judging by its past performance, this will cause irreversible damage to our water resources, destroy our rich biodiversity and internationally recognised ecosystems and even further diminish the rights of Queensland landholders.
Before casting their votes on Saturday, rural Queenslanders should carefully consider the Newman government’s disappointing performance – and ask themselves just whose interests this “Strong Plan” will serve over the next 3 years.