My wife and I run cattle on a 25,300 hectare property north of Jericho in Central Queensland, and our business relies almost entirely on two groundwater bores.
For the best part of the last decade, we’ve been forced to live with the uncertainty of two proposed coal ‘mega mines’ – the Alpha and Kevin’s Corner coal mines – and the threat they pose to our groundwater
It is estimated that the Alpha coal mine alone will extract 100GL groundwater, and all of the proposed Galilee Basin mines combined could extract as much as 2,000GL over the period of their operation.
These mines are predicted to result in almost 200 operating bores in the region becoming increasingly inoperable, and a further 300 bores being at risk of groundwater drawdown.
We farmers have only ever really asked for one thing – that mining companies are made to play by the same rules as everybody else.
But that has turned out to be a very forlorn hope, when the mining companies have repeatedly had the rules re-written entirely to suit their purposes.
We’ve represented ourselves in the Qld Land Court twice, and we actually had a win of sorts, back in April 2014 on the Alpha mine.
The Court concluded that the Alpha mine MLA 70426 be rejected and shouldn’t go ahead, or if it did, that it must first obtain water licences for its groundwater impact and that the precautionary principle had to be properly applied.
This principle requires that if we don’t understand the likely repercussions of an impact, we shouldn’t let it go ahead.
For most Queenslanders, if you get a court ruling against you, then that’s that. But that’s not the case for the mining giants.
The LNP Minister at the time, Andrew Cripps, approved the Alpha mine regardless.
Mr Cripps ignored the recommendations of the Court, which have still not yet been met.
At the same time, the LNP Government introduced two new laws designed to smash the playing field and give the mining industry the jump over agriculture once and for all.
They removed the rights of landholders to object to major coordinated projects in court, like I had done, and they handed miners a legal right to take unlimited associated groundwater.
Since then, the Qld Labor Government have finally reinstated community objection rights and last month they introduced a new Bill to limit some of the worst parts of the LNP groundwater laws.
But they haven’t gone far enough. They’ve weakened the criteria that will apply to the grant of associated groundwater licences to mines like Alpha, so that the precautionary principle and other ecologically sustainable development principles won’t apply.
Only farmers like me will remain subject to those stricter criteria if we seek groundwater licences.
There’s one other big issue that looms over our sector, where mining still has its own playing field – land clearing. Queensland Labor have tried, and failed, to bring in new laws to control agricultural land-clearing this year, whilst completely ignoring the vast extent of clearing proposed by mining.
The Alpha coal mine alone will clear or disturb over 25,000 acres of woodland.
Out in the bush, we’ve had enough of the double standards from both major parties.
We’re just asking for a playing field where the farm sector and the mining industry are at least in the same paddock.
- Bruce Currie, Alpha