FORMER New England MP Tony Windsor, who was instrumental in ensuring national scrutiny of the impacts on water from large-scale coal and coal seam gas mining, has called for the senate to reject the Abbott government’s “watering down” of the landmark legislation.
Mr Windsor successfully introduced the “water trigger” amendment towards the end of the previous parliament, which requires large coalmining and CSG developments to be comprehensively assessed at the federal level according to their impact on water resources.
The federal minister has the power to set appropriate conditions as part of the approvals process and the Independent Expert Scientific Committee was established to provide advice as part of the process.
However, the federal government has now moved to change that requirement, instead handing those assessment powers back to the states, a move that has appalled farmers and environmental groups.
The legislative changes passed through the lower house in June and are now expected to be considered by the senate this week.
Mr Windsor has urged cross-bench senators to hold firm on the “water trigger”, saying the community had lost faith in the previous state-based decision-making processes and there was a real need for independent scutiny at a federal level.
“We need to maintain an independent process that people trust,” he said.
“Given the deteriorating trust of government generally, the senate has the opportunity to maintain one thread of that trust and avoid any potential civil unrest.”
Mr Windsor said it was also important for the senate to consider the changes in the context of the progress made on another major national water issue.
“Given that after more than 100 years the commonwealth and state governments have finally agreed on an across-border Murray Darling Basin process of resolving issues, it is absurd to revert to a state-based arrangement for extractive industries that could impact on water quality, end of valley flows, water budgets, consumptive use and existing land uses,” he said.
Mr Windsor’s plea has been echoed by more than 180 farmers, rural and indigenous leaders and scientists who have signed an open letter to Australian senators, saying the future of the nation’s water resources was “too important to leave to state governments with a conflict of interest and a history of failure with mining regulation”.