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Issue #1656      September 17, 2014

“Keep the water trigger”

Former Member for New England Tony Windsor has urged Cross Benchers in the Federal Senate to retain the so called water trigger when debate on the issue is raised this week.

Mr Windsor introduced the Water Trigger Amendment to the Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Legislation (EPBC) towards the end of the previous Parliament and received majority support.

The Amendment allows for impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at the national level and gives the national Minister the capacity to set appropriate conditions as part of the approvals process.

The fully funded Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) has also been established to provide transparent advice to the process.

The Abbott government is attempting to water down the water trigger under the guise of removing red tape and supposedly delivering a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals by accrediting state planning authorities to make those decisions that would previously have required the Commonwealth to assess the impacts on water resources.

“There are a number of reasons that the Cross Benchers should seriously consider before agreeing to any changes” Mr Windsor said.

  1. Given that after more than 100 years the Commonwealth and state governments have finally agreed on an across border Murray Darling Basin process of resolving issues it is absurd to revert to a state based arrangement for extractive industries that could impact on water quality, end of valley flows, water budgets, consumptive use and existing land uses.
  2. The loss of faith by the community in relation to the previous state based decision making processes really demands that a national approach is preferable. This distrust has been exacerbated by recent ICAC findings in relation to both Labor and Liberal Parties in NSW and detrimental water impacts in Queensland to the extent that there is now a real need for independent scrutiny at a federal level.
  3. The need for Bioregional Assessments of catchments that are potentially sensitive to groundwater impacts prior to the granting of approval for extractive activities. This was a recommendation of the Australian Minerals Council as far back as 2008 and was recently raised by former CEO Mitch Hooke. The Federal Independent Scientific Committee is ideally placed to provide trustworthy advice on such assessments.
  4. The need for much more information in relation to the interconnectivity issues between groundwater and surface water and how those issues relate to sustainable agricultural practices and the integrity of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
  5. The chronic under-resourcing of the state Departments to carry out this work under federal accreditation will lead to conflict issues and legal challenge.

Mr Windsor said the removal of the water trigger in the Senate would be a retrograde step.

“Those who believe that removing Commonwealth scrutiny will lead to a quicker approval process will be sadly mistaken. Any policy that doesn’t have the confidence of the community will eventually fail. We need to maintain an independent process that people trust.

“Given the deteriorating trust of government generally the Senate has the opportunity to maintain one thread of that trust and avoid any potential civil unrest” he said.

Next article – Vale John Ondawame

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