Last week Fairfax and the ABC published stories about a ‘backflip’ by the ALP in regards to Part 4 of the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (Qld) (the Act). This part amends the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) inserting a section giving a statutory right for a holder of a mineral development licence or mining lease to take or interfere with underground water in the area of the licence or lease if the taking or interference happens during the course of, or results from, the carrying out of an authorised activity for the licence or lease (s 334ZP (1)). Currently a water licence is required (s 206(4)(i) Water Act 2000 (Qld); sch 2 Water Regulation 2002 (Qld)) and public notice must be given in most circumstances (s 208 Water Act 2000 (Qld), however, if Part 4 of the Act commences this requirement and resultant options for review and litigation under the Water Act 2000 (Qld) will be removed.
While Part 4 of the Act was controversial, perhaps more frustrating for opponents has been the response by the Palaszczuk Government. During the Queensland election campaign, the ALP had stated that the Act would be repealed due to unfettered access to groundwater that the holder of a mineral development licence or mining lease would have (without the need for a water licence), the ALP and conservation groups having argued that this would have a detrimental effect on the Great Barrier Reef catchment systems and put pressure on water resources in Queensland generally.
The Palaszczuk Government have since stated that holders of a mineral development licence or mining lease will need to monitor the impacts and follow make good requirements, although as Tim Seelig of the Wildnerness Society noted in one of the reports, ‘[y]ou can’t make good the complete destruction of springs and aquifers’. As there was no denial that a water licence would no longer be needed in the above circumstance, it would appear that that part of the Act would remain (but not yet commenced) while other parts are repealed.
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