Mining companies 'buying approvals'
MINING companies in Queensland and New South Wales effectively have been able to buy approval for coal seam gas projects, independent MP Tony Windsor says.
Mr Windsor told Federal Parliament on Monday night, while debating a bill to establish a scientific committee to assess future CSG and coal mining developments, the impact of these activities on groundwater systems was "potentially one of the most significant issues to face regional Australia".
He said the committee would be tasked with assessing these impacts.
The Member for New England said there had been failures in process and planning in both Queensland and NSW.
Acknowledging these failures, he said, was important to the committee's independence.
He said mining companies had been able to "virtually drive a bus through the allocation of an exploration licence,
which eventually leads to the allocation of a production licence with, in some cases, a minor amendment".
"I am not anti or pro (mining), but I am very pro that the decisions are made in an objective sense," Mr Windsor said.
"The state-based process that we have had for many years has not been objective. The mining companies, essentially, have paid for the licence, gone away and paid for the environmental assessments, then gone back to the government that they paid the money to and asked for approval.
"There has been a nice little club where approval is nearly always granted."
Mr Windsor said it was clear the system had failed in both states.
He said neither state had adequately "taken into account the effect of these activities on groundwater systems".
"Particularly in those circumstances where this parliament and the state parliaments within the Murray-Darling system are looking at trying to come to grips with a water-accounting process that crosses state borders and that has some impact on environmental flows and the management of the general river system," he said.
"When we do not understand the groundwater issue it is impossible to develop appropriate 'accounting in the valley' processes without that knowledge."
Mr Windsor said an important function of the committee would be to establish a bio-regional assessment process.
The bill, which has bipartisan support, will require the committee to provide advice to the relevant minister "about priority areas in which bioregional assessments should be undertaken".
"The bio-regional assessment process is essentially about assessing risk," he said.
"This committee will have the capacity to make reference to the minister; the capacity to do research; the capacity to make an independent reference back to the minister about a bio-regional assessment process; the capacity to look at the cumulative impacts of a number of proposed mines and existing mines; and the capacity to look at how they will potentially impact on the groundwater systems and the landscape generally."
Mr Windsor was one of 15 lower house MPs to speak in support of the bill on Monday night, including Page MP Janelle Saffin and Queenslanders Wyatt Roy, John Cobb and Scott Buchholz.