Regional experts on review panel

TWO regional identities are among the membership of a new committee that will review the environmental impact of coal seam gas and coal mining proposals around Australia.

Former chairman of the Namoi Catchment Management Authority, Jim McDonald, and retired University of New England deputy vice-chancellor Professor Peter Flood join six others on the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments.

They are to play an important role in reviewing proposals and their potential impact on water resources when they’re referred by federal and state regulators.

“The work of this committee will give communities reason to be confident that future decisions about coal seam gas and large coal mining developments are informed by the best possible science,” Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Water Tony Burke said last week.

He said the committee’s advice was expected to “substantially improve the collective scientific understanding of the water-related impacts (of these activities) through a transparent process that builds public confidence”.

The establishment of the committee, which has been operating on an interim basis for several months, is funded by the federal government as part of a 

$200 million agreement struck with member for New England Tony Windsor in return for his support of the mining tax.

Mr Windsor said he didn’t know all the members of the committee but had been told they were all experts in their fields and could be counted on for objective assessments.

“That’s all you can ask for,” Mr Windsor said.

“The whole idea behind this was to try and get something in place that people could have some faith in ... and this committee will be a valuable part of that process.”

He welcomed the appointment of Mr McDonald, saying his work in helping develop a computer-based program for assessing the risk of the likes of mining on the Namoi catchment would be invaluable for the committee.

“This could be a model for other catchments ... it really is world-first technology,” Mr Windsor said.

The committee, which will be chaired by Lisa Corbyn, will also advise Mr Burke on research priorities that address critical gaps in 

scientific understanding of water-related impacts associated with gas extraction and coal mining.

The federal government has provided $150 million to establish the committee and fund the research and another $50 million has been provided for a new national partnership agreement with the states, whereby they agree to take the committee’s advice into account before a final decision on mining developments.

NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria have all signed the agreement.

Mr Windsor said the advice from the committee to the relevent federal and state ministers would be publicly available and “fully transparent”. 

Mr Burke said he had consulted with the premiers of the states that are signatories to the agreement and his ministerial colleagues before finalising the committee’s membership.

THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Lisa Corbyn (chairman)

Is a former chief executive officer of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and director-general of the NSW Environment Protection Authority and Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. Ms Corbyn has a masters 

in public administration/natural resource management and undertook a fellowship in environmental economics from Princeton 

University.

Professor Craig Simmons

A professor of hydrogeology at Flinders University and director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training. He is a leading international authority in hydrogeology and is considered one of Australia’s foremost groundwater academics.

Emeritus Professor 

     Angela Arthington

Professor Arthington is a leading authority on the ecology of Australian rivers, including the ecology of endangered and alien species. As an aquatic ecologist at the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University, she will bring strong skills and experience to the committee on methods and management of 

environmental water flows to 

sustain river ecosystems. 

Jane Coram 

Ms Coram is a groundwater expert at Geoscience Australia who has been actively involved in the development of multidisciplinary, regional assessments of the role of groundwater processes in groundwater-surface water dynamics, dryland salinity and groundwater sustainability. Her substantial technical work on Commonwealth, state and regional groundwater issues will assist the committee in providing robust advice to governments. 

Dr Andrew Johnson

He is a natural resource scientist and a senior CSIRO executive with responsibilities for leading the organisation’s water, land, climate, marine, biodiversity, urban sustainability and regional development research. He is a member of the prime minister’s Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, a member of the Australian government’s high-level co-ordinating group on climate change science and is chairman of the Northern Ministerial Forum Expert Advisory Council. 

Jim McDonald

Mr McDonald has extensive experience in natural resource management and has served in senior board positions, most relevantly and recently as the former chairman of the Namoi Catchment Management Authority and member of the Namoi Groundwater Ministerial Taskforce and the NSW Groundwater Adjustment Advisory Committee. The depth and breadth of his experience in rural land management and land and water integration planning will be important for the committee’s work, particularly 

for advising on bioregional 

assessments.

Professor Dayanthi Nugegoda 

Professor Nugegoda is an expert in environmental toxicology and ecosystem health. She leads the ecotoxicology and environmental biology research team at RMIT University in Melbourne, is a research leader at the Victorian Centre for Aquatic Pollution Identification and Management and is the current president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Australasia.

Emeritus Professor Peter Flood 

He is a geologist with 44 years’ experience in Basin studies, including within the highly relevant Gunnedah, Bowen and Surat basins where he has studied the impacts of mining and coal seam gas extraction on water resources. He is the retired deputy vice-chancellor, research at the University of New England and is recognised as an expert in his field. Professor Flood brings a substantial understanding of the oil and gas industry to the work of the committee. 

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