Late last year (2014) the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Qld) completed its legislative journey through the Queensland Parliament and on 5 December 2014 was enacted as Act No 64 of 2014 (the Act). The legislation has attracted attention and some controversy because it will, among other amendments, allow miners in Queensland to take ground water without a license and will exempt them from reporting requirements for "low-risk" activities.
The legislation follows from a government announced review of water legislation in March 2014 which the government claimed was part of its promise to grow agriculture as one of the "four pillars of the economy". The proposed amendments are said by the government, in its explanatory materials, to ensure that Queensland’s water legislation "keeps pace with current water management best practice, government service delivery and technology". The government pointing out that the Water Act 2000 (Qld) (the Water Act) as the primary framework for the planning, allocation and management of water in the State was more than thirteen years old and failed to recognise advances in the management of water resources.
The major objectives of the legislation listed by the government are:
The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Mr Andrew Cripps, the Minister responsible for the legislation, is reported as describing the intent of the legislation as being to ". . . cut red tape, provide certainty for developers and increase private sector investment". He further comments that the laws also provide protection for landholders whose water supply is affected by mining activities, saying:
"The bill [now Act] delivers a number of key reforms while retaining certainty and security of entitlements and, most importantly, balancing economic, social and environmental outcomes, . . . It does not abandon the interests of the environment, does not abandon the Great Barrier Reef, ... [it] provides opportunities for economic growth in Queensland while taking into consideration the needs for local communities for water and also the important needs of the environment."
In addressing criticism of changes to underground water management the Minister is reported as saying that appropriate safeguards were still in place, that:
". . . although mines would not require a licence for associated water take, their operations would still be subject to approval from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection."
Those critical of the legislation are reported as voicing concern that the legislation would damage aquifers, pose a threat to the Great Barrier Reef and would ". . . give coal companies the right to extract billions of litres of ground water without having to buy licences or to adhere to caps".
The Labor opposition environment spokesperson Jackie Trad is reported to have commented that:
". . . the legislation removed environmental checks and would result in the degradation of water supplies. . . . The Government can agree to give a mining company a water development option, which is essentially a right to exclusive water use without any scientific or hydrological assessment taking place beforehand, . . . Also, without taking public submissions."
With the Queensland Government facing an election at the end of January 2015, it will be interesting to see what becomes of this legislation should the Government of Queensland change.
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