Friday, 20 November 2015

Mining open slather on underground water continues

by George Houen, Landholder Services Pty Ltd
Image sourced [here]       

Miners will get to keep the Newman government’s gift of open slather on groundwater, plus the waiving of both the water licence requirement and the obligation to justify the volume of water they extract - and they will be able to use or dispose of the water any way they wish including by evaporation, which for obvious environmental reasons was banned in coal seam gas fields years ago.

At least miners who dewater will, for the first time, be subject to Chapter 3 of the Water Act which imposes a make good obligation and requires underground water impact reports. Successive governments have assured bore owners that if there is bore damage from dewatering the Chapter 3 make good scheme will protect them – that is false and when the scheme is called upon for a contested make good scheme the affected owners will find it is tragically flawed.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham announced on 10th November which parts of the previous governments water amendments he intends to repeal or amend. But open slather for miners stays – and after consultation with the Environment Minister and with stakeholders as to how it will operate it will be proclaimed into force, including for existing mines, on a date to be agreed.

Provided a mining lease and an environmental authority have been granted, unlimited dewatering is OK, even in a worst-case situation where dewatering is virtually certain to damage or destroy water bores as well as groundwater dependent flora or fauna.

Under present laws, groundwater impacts are a major factor in any environmental impact assessment for mining - often giving rise to objections supported by high-level expert evidence in the Land Court’s objections hearings. The Court directs any resulting recommendations on groundwater to the Environment Minister for consideration in deciding the environmental authority application.

But the Court under present laws doesn’t have jurisdiction to make recommendations about the licence for dewatering which - until proclamation of the change - is under the separate jurisdiction of Natural Resources and Mines. This segregation is artificial and should have been removed. However, under the Water Act an interested person who disputes grant of a water licence can request internal review of the decision and can also appeal to the Land Court about it.

Allowing dewatering without a water licence doesn’t alter the Environmental Protection Act assessment process for the proposed mine, nor does it alter the Land Court’s role as the independent assessor which makes recommendations to the Minister. Both of those phases are designed to assess and test the evidence on overall environmental impact (including impacts on groundwater and water users) and applications for environmental authority.

In spite of the miners gaining open slather dewatering, the current process of overall environmental assessment including the impacts on groundwater resources and on users of water bores, with a right for the public to object and be heard in the Land Court, will continue.

This tussle over the Newman government’s amendments gave Minister Lynham a golden opportunity to remove artificial demarcation and integrate the approval of dewatering with the well-established environmental assessment system – he let it slip. Now I expect that, true to form, mining company lawyers will use the advent of open slather dewatering and abolition of the requirement for water licenses to argue that objections about groundwater be no longer permitted.


The Newman Government’s Water Act amendments: Part 1 - Deregulation of the Dewatering of Mines 

The Newman Government’s Water Act amendments: Part 2 - Uncoordinated Approval System 

The Newman Government’s Water Act amendments: Part 3, Make Good 

The Newman Government’s Water Act amendments: Part 4 - Stream diversions

Dewatering Mt Gibson Iron Ore mine, photo sourced [here]                                                                                                                       

Saturday, 7 November 2015

PRA: Disadvantage and Discernment

Condensed from the Chairman’s report at Property Rights Australia conference August 2015

This was the rally cry, the motto that former PRA chairman John Purcell came up with a number of years back. The times suited it as there was a wave after wave of the theft of property rights and you lived in expectation of the super wave at every election cycle. Possibly life for PRA was a little simpler back in the ALP Beattie government years leading into the handover to Peter Beattie’s deputy Anna Bligh. The enemy was environmentalists and appeasement to them by government for cheap political gain.
After lecturing landowners for many years about the precautionary principle the Bligh government vigorously told landowners that they had no choice but to accept another business called coal seam gas laid over their properties. This new business was allowed to operate under an adaptive management principle. A term the then PRA chairman Ron Bahnisch called, “oxymoronic.”
The precautionary principle over the years has suffered misuse by some (not all) in the opposition to any new development by taking too far an endless litany of “what ifs.”  Sustainability is a word that can be problematic due to it being used in contexts that are not measurable; definitions designed to suit an outcome and the goalposts are able to be shifted at whim.
Adaptive management was an absolute joke; the admission that we know that there will be problems, we don’t know the solutions but somehow we will work it out as we go along. It was the height of hypocrisy that same government that bashed landowners over the head for so long with a big environmental stick could turn around so quickly and direct departmental staff in the blinkered support of both mining, CSG and supporting infrastructure.

Former PRA Chair John Purcell receiving Life Membership from the then Chair, Joanne Rea at the 2012 PRA conference

PRA is developing a policy document called the No Disadvantage Principle. The disregard of people, their ability to make an income from their property, amenity of life, impacts that cause diminution of value, future external liabilities left to the landowner and reduced future use of the land – all these issues have continued on many fronts.

PRA calls on government to apply a No Disadvantage Principle test to all new legislation and policies that impact Landowners, particularly in relation to resource and environment impacts. If a community, industry or even an individual is placed at a disadvantage the policy or legislation should be amended and if this is not possible those affected should be fully compensated. No one should be left as collateral damage to what is thought to be at the time, “the greater good.”
Such a clear and unequivocal legislated rule would still allow economic development including mining and petroleum projects to operate, to generate wealth and jobs for the State and allow Government to legislate on environmental concerns for the public good but there would no longer be financially crippled victims sacrificed to achieve the desired goals.
The polarising of the public debate in the area of mining and coal seam gas has proved very frustrating in recent years. It has suited the big players to throw insults at radical environmentalists on the one hand with a return taunt of “greedy multinational miners” which is played out in the metropolitan media. The debate may be city based but the physical location of projects is forgotten, on or near to rural property owners who on the most part are agricultural producers.

Let’s be clear PRA is no way anti mining. Resources are an important part of the economy. It has provided our society with the means to enjoy the standard of living we do today. Likely to be replaced as we advance into the future but we are dependent on mining for energy needs. What is often overlooked is the high end uses of oil & even coal for products that will ultimately prove far more valuable to us than burning up in an internal combustion engine. 
But make no mistake PRA will speak out against resource company’s actions and also against environmental organisations when the property owner’s rights are not respected.

Recent years has seen former adversaries saying very similar things about the coal seam gas invasion onto our properties. We may not be on the same path but we often find ourselves running a parallel path. This is occurring at the same time of increasing polarisation of the public debate.
In this new atmosphere PRA has to be very discerning. It is our role to stand up for the rights of landowners, not to make government happy, no matter its colour. PRA is by constitution apolitical. If there is an abuse of landowner rights we must speak up. We have witnessed CSG & some (not all) coal companies throw their weight around in callous disregard to the landowner and we have seen government make legislative changes that shifted unbalance in favour of resources blatantly further to their favour.

A steady hand & a discerning mind is needed. I see others in frustration shift to the thinking of the means justifies the end; it never does. One needs to be discerning about environmental groups who appear (& largely are) on the same page about CSG, but inevitably other agendas are crept in and promoted. There is also the increasing tiresome chatter of the eco-pessimist that from all developments the worst calamity is automatic.
Then we have another phenomenon to resist from those without direct connection to CSG localities where they assume because those “dam greenies” are saying something that it is automatically wrong and the CSG industry therefore are virtuous.

While it is certainly easy to find many examples of the extreme end of the environmental movement in their ‘the end justifies the means’ approach using alarmism, misinformation and even sabotage, it is simplistic to assume that everyone interested in environmental issues are deluded.

Those of us who are interested into the enquiry into the truth of a situation should resist the weakness that requires one to retreat to known absolutes and not allow new events to challenge one’s thinking. Sometime there are circumstances where you end up on a parallel course to others that are normally in opposition; it appears that some are so insecure in their own convictions that they create an artificial world of “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. “


In conclusion, the call for discernment is for us, Property Rights Australia, its members and the board to make evidence based decisions and not be afraid to give voice to them no matter the company.
The call of recognising disadvantage is to government that by adopting the No Disadvantage Principle that no one is left as road kill on the highway of the common good.

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