Mines under development in Queensland that will have an impact on groundwater will be required to obtain an “associated water licence” under laws passed in Parliament early today (Thursday).
Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 allowed the Palaszczuk Government to fulfil its election commitment to reverse Newman-Nicholls laws which sought to deregulate the mining industry and give them an “unlimited right to take”.
The Adani group’s Carmichael mine, rail and port project will fall outside of the scope of the new laws. (See separate story)
But the New Hope Group has accused the Palaszczuk Government of putting the jobs of more than 300 of its employees and contractors at serious risk by pushing through the Bill in the form passed.
New Hope Group managing director Shane Stephan said the legislation increased the amount of greentape faced by resource companies and was likely to cause at least a further 12 months’ delay in getting approval for Stage 3 of the New Acland mine.
“Rather than supporting struggling regional communities, this government is more interested in pandering to the green lobby and vocal minorities in an attempt to shore up
electoral support in the metropolitan areas,” Mr Stephan said.
“New Hope Group lodged the original application for Stage 3 in 2007 and has been battling green lawfare ever since. This is without doubt the most scrutinised mine in Australian history. We have been through the process of public scrutiny at least six times and now we have yet another hurdle thrust in our way.”
Mr Stephan said New Hope Group did not oppose the original Bill in its entirety, but had requested that the transitional provisions be modified so that projects like New
Acland Stage 3 that had already been through detailed underground water impact assessment studies would not have to needlessly repeat the process.
Dr Miles said Labor’s Bill had defused the threat to the environment and rural communities presented by changes under the previous government.
“In contrast, the LNP again stood up in Parliament and attempted to deregulate groundwater in Queensland,” he said.
“They moved amendments which would have exempted specific projects chosen by the LNP from having to apply for and qualify for a water licence. How did they select those projects, and what undertakings did they make to those companies?
“The Palaszczuk Government, through consultation and sensible laws, won the support of independent MPs and the Katter Australia Party.”
Deputy Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk needed to explain to the employees of the Acland mine and their families – as well as the businesses who relied on this mine – why their livelihoods weren’t worth saving from this ‘job-destroying’ legislation.
“These laws will plunge the Acland mine into another round of unnecessary environmental assessments, despite it having already satisfied both state and federal environmental laws,” she said.
“The LNP fought for a review of make-good provisions in this legislation, to protect the interests of our farmers while ensuring these vital projects aren’t held up – but Labor wasn’t interested.
“Labor was warned of the dire consequences their new groundwater laws would pose for the desperately-needed expansion at the mine – but they didn’t listen and don’t care.”
The Bill was passed with an amendment which Dr Miles said would strengthen the expertise and knowledge between regulators dealing with water issues by ensuring the Director-General of DNRM consulted with the Director-General of EHP before making a decision on an associated water licence.
“I will direct the Director-General of EHP that he is to form his opinion regarding groundwater impacts to be based on advice from an independent panel,” he said.
“The panel will be formed by the Director-General of EHP and Director-General of DNRM and will consist of the Queensland Chief Scientist and three other members qualified in the law, public administration and natural resource matters.
“Parliament also agreed that if a court has already delivered its judgement after completing its exhaustive cross-examination of the groundwater impacts of a mine and determined there is no impediment to the mine proceeding, that there is no benefit in the courts once again repeating that scrutiny”.
Dr Miles said “future” mining projects would have the environmental impacts of their groundwater take initially assessed under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 as part their environmental authority application.
He said stronger rights for farmers was another outcome of the new Bill.
“This will be achieved by improving the existing ‘make good’ obligations under the underground water management framework in the Water Act 2000.
“When they become law, the amendments we passed will ensure landholders are in a stronger negotiating position and are fairly compensated for impacts on their infrastructure and on the water resources they rely on,” Dr Miles said.