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McKenzie, Sen Bridget
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 7 June 2012)
CHAIR (Senator Cameron)
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Fisher)
- Dr Tait
Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 07/06/2012
BRIDLE, Mrs Anne Rosemary, Vice-Chair, Basin Sustainability Alliance
DUDDY, Mr Timothy, Spokesman, Caroona Coal Action Group
HAYLLOR, Mr Ian, Chairman, Basin Sustainability Alliance
Evidence from Mrs Bridle and Mr Hayllor was taken via teleconference—
CHAIR: I welcome the witnesses. Thank you for talking to us today. The committee has received your submissions as submission 5 and 18 respectively. Does anyone wish to make any amendments or alterations to their submission or an opening statement?
Mr Duddy : Where I come from, on the Liverpool Plains, is an area of some of the most productive agricultural land in the country. Underlying that area is an enormous natural water resource run by a series of aquifers, some that are interconnected and some that are isolated. In 2005, the New South Wales state government decided that they were going to give exploration licences over our region. Our area had some of the leaders in water reform to maintain the sustainability of the region for agriculture. We discovered that many of the processes had been corrupted by the relationships between the state ministers and departments, where many things were expressly approved without the proper checks and balances. Following water reform in the Commonwealth, where the Commonwealth took control of certain water assets in treatise with the states, we decided that the Commonwealth was very much in the space where it should be, having some responsibility to mining development or mining proposals over regions like ours.
Mr Hayllor : We certainly welcomed the consideration of significant impacts on water resources in determining approvals for coal seam gas development in the EPBC Act amendment. Realistically, we believe this should apply to all projects, whether new ones or past-projects. The panel must assess the cumulative impacts of development, and findings of the scientific panel must enable change in practice. And, as I said before, existing projects should be subject to any new conditions that are identified by the new scientific process.
Of concern is that the panel will only look at new applications, and we do not support this at all. We want the scientific panel to actually have the capacity to change conditions on companies with the new inform they receive. And there needs to be flexibility in conditioning once new issues arise that require a whole-of-basin approach to the scientific investigation And we have had concerns with current data that the Queensland Water Commission's Underground Water Impactreport was based on. A lot of it is old data and we believe there needs to be a federal overview of that whole process and that impact report. And we are greatly concerned that groundwater quality is not been adequately addressed by that state government. We would like to an overriding power for the federal government in conditioning state governments on the condition that the state government replies to the resources sector, especially where this unacceptable impacts on water resources. And we believe that the federal government must be able to insist that the coal-seam gas companies provide the necessary data to the scientific panel. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Hayllor. Can just remind you that we have a narrow brief in terms of this bill, and some of the issues you are raising go to a much wider environmental rage of concerns than we are dealing with today, but I am quite happy for you to have raised them this morning. I will go to Senator McKenzie.
Senator McKENZIE: I do not actually have any question at this point, Chair.
CHAIR: Senator Waters?
Senator WATERS: Thanks very much, Chair, and Mr Duddy and Mr Hayllor, for being on the phone with us today. Mr Duddy, you made mention in your opening statement that you thought the Commonwealth should have some responsibility for mining—and, obviously, your area is suffering from huge impacts, as are areas of my state: Queensland. Cam you talk a little bit more about whether you think this bill goes far enough in the context of the Commonwealth stepping in in this space.
Mr Duddy : I believe that the bill does go far enough. I believe that the Commonwealth should make no excuse for having an entry point into this. In our area, where all our rivers run to the west rather than to the east, we have 3,300 riverine kilometres from proposed mining projects on a flood plain, where we have water resources that cross three states. So I think very much is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to become involved in these kinds of projects; but certainly projects where natural resources that have other implications across other states—and our area would be one of those areas. But I certainly think this goes a very long way to addressing some of those things that are long overdue and are not properly addressed in the current state processes of approval.
Senator WATERS: Are you concerned, them, that, if you say you think it is the job of the Commonwealth to step in—and I completely agree where water is crossing state boundaries---that this bill, whilst establishing a committee that can investigate those impacts, does not then empower the federal minister to act on those impacts?
Mr Duddy : I do have concerns about that but, one of problems that occur, when a community comes against a mining company, is that there is not sufficient science to establish what harm has been done. When we have such extensive, or potentially extensive, research done prior to development, then it would also change the compensatory and the onus that would apply to those companies. So, whilst it may not do it directly, I think it may do it indirectly.
Senator FISHER: Chair, I need clarification. Senator Waters, I think you said it does not empower the minister. Did you mean 'compel'?
Senator WATERS: No, I meant 'empower'.
Senator FISHER: Continue on. I will deal with it later.
Senator WATERS: Mr Hayllor, I have a couple of questions for you along a similar vein as I have just put to Mr Duddy. You mentioned in your opening remarks that you favoured the fact that water impacts were now relevant. Same question, really: are you concerned that the committee can consider those impacts but the federal minister's hands are still tied and he cannot act on the water impacts alone?
Mr Hayllor : We certainly are concerned. I might hand this over to Anne Bridle. She is probably up with the legislation.
Mrs Bridle : I guess our concern is that we already have a number of large projects approved for Queensland. Our concern is that, if the federal government is concerned about the impact on water resources, whether they will be compelled to act on those projects that are already approved. We have a state government that is recently released the underground water impact management report. It considers water drawdown. We are seeing that there will be significant water drawdown that is fundamental to coal-seam gas extraction. We are very concerned about the quality of groundwater. If you get a change in groundwater pressure there will be a change in groundwater quality, and we are concerned that that is not being taken into consideration.
Senator WATERS: Mr Duddy, one of the previous witness referred to the bioregional assessment that has already been conducted in your region—
Mr Duddy : No, it was not a bioregional assessment; it is the Namoi catchment study.
Senator WATERS: That was being praised for its comprehensiveness and its focus on cumulative impacts. Is it your view that the work of the committee will be similarly broad and appropriately constituted under this committee?
Mr Duddy : Having been involved in a Namoi water study since its very first day when we sat with the minerals industry on one side and the minister in New South Wales on the other, and then doing considerable work to secure Commonwealth funding, amongst other things, I would hope that this process does not resemble that study in any way, shape or form.
Senator WATERS: Okay. Tell us why.
Mr Duddy : That study has gone a long way short of addressing many things: interconnectivity issues, floodplain surface water issues. Whilst the general intent of the study has been a good thing, how it has actually ended up, by having industry with its hands in it, has been a process that is not something that I would support. The concept of it is marvellous but the way that we actually got there was not something that I would support. I would hope that this new scientific committee, where there are all sorts of representatives from different places, would actually make that sort of thing not occur by removing industry directly from it.
Senator WATERS: We talked a lot about trying to avoid conflicts of interest between members of the committee and industry, so it is a point we are hearing loud and clear. Can you talk a little bit about the nature, then, as you understand it, of the bioregional assessments that are proposed under the bill and how they will differ from the Namoi catchment study, which you say has had some flaws?
Mr Duddy : The bioregional assessment would also take into account cumulative impacts of mining. I would see that the committee would meet and they would say, 'We have area A here. It has water resources, gas, coal, major river systems, overland water flows, so we need these different specialists and scientist to do this work.' They then have those works commissioned, perhaps get real-time monitoring done on aquifer systems, and then they would lay out a schedule of the sort of proposal. It might say they can develop two mines in this region and three gasfields. But once we put the fourth mine in that area we hit a tipping point where the impact on the water resource is unacceptable. Whilst the Namoi water study has gone towards the word 'risk', it has not actually gone towards any system of applying that risk practically or applying that risk evaluation properly—and I would hope that that is something the scientific committee did do in the end.
Senator WATERS: You said the bioregional assessments will take cumulative impacts into account. I am struggling to find where that is specified. I cannot see it in the bill and I cannot see it in the national partnership agreement either. But I could be missing something.
Mr Duddy : In many of the things I have read on this I am sure there was certainly discussion about cumulative risk.
Senator WATERS: It would be nice to see that reflected in black and white; that is my only comment. I would be very pleased to be directed to it if you are able to find it. If it is not in there, is that something you would support being in there?
CHAIR: Mr Duddy, rather than having to flick through explanatory memorandums and bills, you can take that on notice.
Mr Duddy : Yes, I am happy to come back to the committee with that. Section 505D(g) says 'collect, analyse and disseminate scientific information in relation to the impacts of coal seam gas developments and large coal mining resources on water resources'. That would give a very clear charter for the committee to do cumulative risk.
Senator WATERS: So you think that is broad enough despite not—
Mr Duddy : Yes, I do. And I think making many of these things prescriptive ends up creating problems; rather than assisting the process in being open and transparent, I think it creates limitations. Going back to your former point about the minister not being compelled, I like the word 'may' because 'may' actually means that other things compel them to do it. So if the scientific committee says to the minister, 'We've got a major problem here,' that gives him the right to say, 'We can do something about that.'
Senator WATERS: My point is that he cannot—because he does not have the legislative power to act on water; he only has the legislative power to act on matters of national environmental significance, which does not currently include water. I fully support the intent of this bill but my concern is that it falls at that last hurdle. Anyway, I think the committee knows that that is my view on this point. That is all I have got for the time being, Chair.
Senator FISHER: Mr Hayllor, I think it was you who raised the point that, in your view, the bill was lacking because it only allowed assessment of proposed developments. Is that right?
Mr Hayllor : Yes, that is correct; that is our understanding.
Senator FISHER: Chair, I will come back to that because I have lost the bit to which I was going to refer.
Senator McKENZIE: Do any of you have commentary around the discretionary power of the minister? Some submissions we have received suggest that they do not want the minister to have as much discretion around this as they currently do. I would be interested to get your commentary on that.
Mr Hayllor : We do have a concern that it is at the minister's discretion. We believe there needs to be an open, clear and transparent process that sets triggers for the minister to refer a project to the scientific panel. To me, relying on the minister's discretion is a flawed point in this legislation. It needs to be much stronger than that, or a much more transparent process. I do not know if Anne wants to add anything to that.
Mrs Bridle : No, I do not have anything to add.
Mr Duddy : Whilst a minister's discretion can be a double-edged sword where the minister may or may not, we would hope that, in the model of good governance, if there is an issue that evolves from this from a region, a minister would and not just may and that that would be part of his responsibility. So I do not share the fear of minister's discretion, even though I have been on the other side of them on in some instances in the state. But I have much more faith in the Commonwealth process than I do in the state governments.
Senator McKENZIE: That is interesting. Mr Duddy, are you still working for Tony Windsor?
Mr Duddy : I have never worked for Tony Windsor. I have worked out of his office in Canberra working on these processes, but I have never correctly worked for or been employed by him.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.
Senator FISHER: I have found my place—
CHAIR: Have you? Let us go to that.
Senator FISHER: my place in the document, anyway; let's not speak more broadly than that!
CHAIR: I was hoping that we were going to get a description of your place in the scheme of things!
Senator FISHER: Never! Mr Hayllor, my question is on the same issue. Are you not comforted by the provision in the bill that talks about providing advice to the minister, admittedly at the request of the minister, about how bioregional assessments should be conducted in areas where coal seam gas development or large coalmining development is being carried out or is proposed. So it is not just 'is proposed' but also in respect of work that is happening. Are you not comforted by that provision?
Mr Hayllor : Comforted in some way—but what is the process to get the minister to act when there is concern in an area with an existing project? We feel in Queensland right now that there is no cumulative impact model that is scientifically proven for the whole basin. As far as the water management goes, we have the Queensland underground water impact report, which is identifying the water extraction and potential impact, but there is nothing above that to manage the impacts and to dictate how to produce water and manage it within the basin. Whether it has evaporated away or goes down the river or is used for power stations or for coal washing, there is just not at this stage in Queensland an overall plan for the whole water body within the Surat Basin, and we do not know how we can get that on the agenda with the federal minister. Anne would like to add some comments to that.
Mrs Bridle : I would add that our concern is: What is the stick? What is it that a minister would do if something already approved was posing a problem? How is the minister then compelled to act? I see that one of the functions of the committee, function (f), is:
to publish information relating to the development of standards for protecting water resources from the impacts of coal seam gas development …
So we seem to have a contradiction between what the state government is doing and what information is required here. The state government is accepting that there will be harm and that there will be draw-down, so the Underground Water Impact Management Report that we have just had released in Queensland virtually does authorise harm in saying, 'We accept that this draw-down is acceptable.' The response which is likely to come from that is that the State government will then direct the companies to mitigate in some way, whether it be through reinjection or virtual reinjection, and that assumes that they can remedy this situation. So we are locked into damage here in some way in Queensland, and I guess we are wondering how, with the powers that the minister will have, if there is any way that he can re-open or recondition those projects.
Senator FISHER: I understood you to be saying that there is a conflict between item (f) and the situation you have in Queensland. Where is the conflict?
Mrs Bridle : The conflict is that it appears you are taking advice on protecting resources whereas in Queensland we are causing damage to resources. By removing pressure and dewatering, we are causing damage to resources. The Queensland government has said that of the total amount of induced flow from formations overlaying and underlying the Walloon Coal Measures, it will be 50 per cent of all the water extracted from coal seam gas. To me that implies that there is significant interconnection.
Senator FISHER: Item (f) would not prevent, would it, some incursion on water resources from the impact of coal seam gas development? Item (f) talks about publishing of information relating to the development of standards for protecting water resources from the impacts, but that is not necessarily a one-way street—is it? You could still protect while allowing some incursion?
Mrs Bridle : You are assuming that you can mitigate the damage. You are assuming that the damage can be remedied—is that correct?
Senator FISHER: I am trying to ask you about your interpretation of item (f) in the bill and drawing on your example of your suggestion that a different direction is being taken by the Queensland government from what the bill would envisage in item (f). I am suggesting that even the bill would not necessarily rule out all incursion on water resources. It would seek to mitigate it, would it not, on its terms? That is a possibility which you might not like.
Mrs Bridle : No, I agree with you. I am saying that you want to publish information on protecting water resources. In Queensland, we are in a situation where we are not actually protecting those resources; we are causing damage to them and then trying to make it better later.
Senator FISHER: Okay. Mr Duddy, do you have any comment on the ability for the bill to cover projects that are already underway?
Mr Duddy : Projects that are underway, at the stage they were underway the day the bill was introduced, would actually be allowed to go past. But when those projects were to be expanded or change direction and they had to have other approvals, I think they would then be caught. I also see that the whole concept of this is that the scientific committee would establish whether those things can be mitigated, what the tipping point is, so that there is as little harm done as humanly possible. Or if they cannot stop the harm from being done to a significant degree then those projects would be stopped from expansion or as they would progress in other ways, or not be allowed to expand into another phase.
Senator FISHER: Mr Duddy, I do not think you were in the room at the time but earlier witnesses talked about my description of their words that it was of concern that the bill did not allow the committee itself to be proactive in the work that it did. The bill allows certain staff to do so at the request of the minister, and then it lists various other things which the committee can do. But the committee at large is clearly not envisaged to be doing work of its own. What do you think of that?
Mr Duddy : I am not sure you did not just ask me two questions. Sorry. The committee doing work of its own—yes; but the community does still have a huge place in that. It is up to the community to do the submissions to a minister that say, 'We believe there is a problem here,' and the minister looks at it and says, 'Oh, we hadn't thought of that,' and he may then pass that on. However, I do not think involving either the proponents of the project or the community members in this process would actually assist its transparency. In saying that, I think if you have got the world's finest geologist who lives in close proximity to that project then that should not rule him out either. The committee should be made up of people on their merits, for where they are and what they do and for the fact that they can bring weight to the process so that it is as good as it can be to assure that those things are not damaged that they do not want to damage.
Senator FISHER: You say that as someone who has had experience as a proponent one way on a particular issue in your home place on the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Duddy : Absolutely. By the community being active, we have brought attention to things that otherwise would not have had attention. So I do not see—
Senator FISHER: Yet you are still not saying—
Mr Duddy : I would not want to sit on a committee that was talking about development on the Liverpool Plains, because I would be very biased towards one view and I do not think that would actually help the process.
Senator FISHER: Indeed, the bill would rule you out where it specifically says:
... each member’s appointment is not being made to represent any particular body, group or community.
Mr Duddy : Absolutely. And I am a great supporter of that view, because I think community people have other roles to bring things to the attention of the minister, which then go on to the committee so that it is at arm's length.
Senator FISHER: Someone has to pay for this committee after all, don't they?
Mr Duddy : They do—and hopefully not the miners. That has been a lot of the problem in the past.
Senator FISHER: I presume that you are supportive as well of the fact that third parties cannot seek advice from the committee.
Mr Duddy : Yes, I am; totally.
CHAIR: Mr Duddy, what is your interpretation of a large mining project?
Mr Duddy : I can tell you what a large mining project is not rather than what it is. A large mining project is not an eight or a 10 million tonne mine over 30 years. A large mining project is definitely a 70, 80, 120, 550 or 850 million tonne mine. Many of the projects that are pre-1975 in the Hunter Valley would be what I would class as 'small mines'. Many of the projects that are currently on the drawing board are large mines. I think the peril that the industry has met in communities is simply because of the scale of those projects.
CHAIR: There are not many small mining projects being proposed these days; they are all mega projects.
Mr Duddy : They are an absolute rarity. Part of the root of the problem that has occurred and that makes this sort of process essential is that the projects have become such a scale.
CHAIR: This legislation would capture by far the bulk of proposals.
Mr Duddy : I would say probably better than 80 per cent of the projects that are currently proposed.
CHAIR: I am just having a look at the functions of the committee. Given your experience and the problems that you have had, can you walk us through how these functions would have assisted the debate and analysis of the issues on the Liverpool Plains. Maybe I can take you through it.
Mr Duddy : Yes, if we could go point by point.
CHAIR: Okay. I will take you to the specific ones. Do you think the Liverpool Plains would have been a priority research project to improve the scientific understanding of the impacts of the large coalmining developments?
Mr Duddy : Undoubtedly it would because of the scale of the water resource, the proximity to the Murray-Darling Basin system, the floodplains system, the interconnectivity of the water and the size of the coal resource there. Undoubtedly it would meet the criteria very easily, yes.
CHAIR: Would it come under this bioregional assessment?
Mr Duddy : I think it is essential that it would come under the bioregional assessment, yes, because the industry is talking about turning the Gunnedah Basin into the next Hunter Valley. So it needs to be established as to what can and cannot be done and where it can and cannot be done.
CHAIR: What was your experience of the lack of consistency and comparability of research that was available on the impacts of coalmining developments?
Mr Duddy : Having been the proponent of many FOIs and calls for papers, I have seen the things that become publicly available and the things that are done off the record. There is a vast disparity between those two volumes of information. I think this would certainly remove a lot of that by having an independent scientific panel that has access to all the work. Indeed, if the work is not done, the panel could commission it. That would be a very good step to take and would take a lot of the anger out of the communities that are affected by these projects.
CHAIR: Subparagraph 505D(1)(f) talks about standards for protecting water resources and (g) talks about disseminating scientific information. Was any of this available when you started the campaign in the Liverpool Plains area? Were there standards and scientific information available?
Mr Duddy : There was considerable scientific information available about water resources but not in relation to the coal and the proximity of the coal. Most of the time when anyone requested any of it, the mining companies or the minister's office would claim commercial-in-confidence. That was a great issue. Whilst I don't think it would be appropriate for the community to have access to information on the quality of the mineral resource that is under the water resources, I think the community should certainly have access to information on where the mineral resources are, because it helps them to deal with the potential impacts on their water resources.
CHAIR: You said there was scientific information available. Was it scientific information in relation to the impact of coalmining? I am just trying to clarify. You are saying there was scientific information available, but that was in relation to the aquifers?
Mr Duddy : Yes. There has been absolutely no scientific information available with regard to the impact. In other areas where the impact has been assessed by the mining companies, with the 20-20 vision of hindsight we tend to find that the impact is grossly understated. When you look at a project 10 years down the track, what they said they were going to impact and what they actually have are two entirely different things. So we would hope that this process will mean that the modelling is more independent and less favourable to the commercial incentives of getting a project over the line.
CHAIR: I understand that one of the problems that have been raised in the Liverpool Plains is the standards used in drilling to find out where the aquifers run. Is that still a problem?
Mr Duddy : It is still a problem, yes, and it is not just a problem in the Liverpool Plains. We have seen many instances of mining exploration damaging other assets that the miners then claim they are having no effect on. We have seen that in the Hunter Valley. Recently I have come back from South Australia where I saw exactly the same thing occurring, which brings me back to a point I made earlier to Senator Waters: this scientific committee would actually draw-up a list of things it identifies so that the community is aware of what is at risk. The biggest problem is that much of the information we rely on to assess what is at risk is provided by the miners and it provides extremely conservative views of what is at risk. We are hoping that this independent process would assess what is at risk, therefore, you would hope that, indirectly, it would improve the processes by which they explore, and potentially develop, by assessing those things that are at risk.
CHAIR: You have been an activist on this for some time now, haven't you?
Mr Duddy : Some seven years, yes.
CHAIR: Seven years?
Mr Duddy : Yes.
CHAIR: Who is your local member?
Mr Duddy : Our local member is Tony Windsor.
CHAIR: It would not be a surprise that you have communicated with Tony Windsor on this issue?
Mr Duddy : No. I have spent considerable time with Tony working with him with regard to some of these solutions—considerable time. We have looked at it from a community basis of how we protect livelihoods in our region. Many other communities that have come to me through this process are in exactly the same boat.
CHAIR: Does your community feel that it has had an input into this legislation?
Mr Duddy : Certainly, but so have many other communities. Many communities have had input into this: in Sydney, three weeks ago, 8,000 people turned up on a Wednesday afternoon to march the streets with the CWA. This is affecting a very broad group of people.
CHAIR: Is that the Country Women's Association?
Mr Duddy : It is the Country Women's Association. It is the first time in its 90-year history that it has rallied, and it is simply over land use issues and harm to water resources from extractive industries.
CHAIR: The issue of independence of the scientific committee seems to be one that comes up time and time again. In your understanding—you may not know this—is there enough expert independent scientific capacity in Australia, given the size of the mining industry and of, say, the number of hydrology experts. Would they not all have done some work at some stage for the mining industry?
Mr Duddy : Yes, but the fact that someone has done some work for the mining industry does not mean they are not independent. From a personal view, if I were choosing the make-up of the committee, I would choose people who love science. I would not show prejudice towards the fact that they had worked for mining, for agriculture or for a department or that they had worked forever. You want people who actually love science and who are genuinely interested in what is going on. That fact someone has worked for a particular employer that does not mean they are necessarily its greatest advocate; what you want is someone is very smart as to what they can do and how they can model things. You want the best people in their field. Who they have worked for is completely irrelevant.
CHAIR: The proposition has been put by previous witnesses that they felt that there was a juggernaut in place when the mining companies are the coal seam gas companies determine that something is going to happen, and that juggernaut is very difficult to stand in front of. What is your experience?
Mr Duddy : I think that is undoubtedly our experience, but I hope that processes like this would take a lot of the heat out of that sort of thing. One of the issues that occur in a community is that, when they come and harm an area, the miners pay out the farmers or landowners, so they have ostensibly paid out any opposition. In this instance, if it is established upfront what is at risk then those things that are harmed that have been identified at risk must be paid for, which would mean that they would be assessed in the potential development of a mine. If the Commonwealth said there are 200,000 megalitres of water in this valley that could be harmed and it has been assessed by an independent body, then that has to be taken into account. I think that would go a very long way towards making the miners much more responsible about how they develop these projects. Currently, we are in a resource boom and if an industry is not going to lift its game, so to speak, in a resource boom, they are hardly going to do it in a bust. This will make the miners more responsible about where they go and what they do once these assets that are at risk are identified by a third party.
Senator WATERS: I raised some questions at the outset but I am particularly interested—I might go back to an issue that the chair picked up—in the scope of the committee regarding what size of developments are picked up. I was interested in your views as to what was large and small. I did not necessarily agree with your parameters but, be that as it may. The definition of large coal mining development in the bill is not by the size of the operations but by the level of impact on water resources.
Mr Duddy : Absolutely, and that is a totally appropriate way to scale that project.
Senator WATERS: My question is: if only a mining development that is going to have a significant impact on water resources will trigger this committee jurisdiction and we have a paucity of science about those very impacts which the committee is set up to fix, isn't that just a vicious circle? What if we do not have the information to say that this large mine or this coal seam gas activity particularly will have that significant impact? We need this committee to do the science, because we do not have the science and yet their jurisdiction is not invoked because it does not meet the hurdle. How do we get around that?
Mr Duddy : If there are significant water resources, I do not see how they would avoid it.
Senator WATERS: But it is about a significant impact.
CHAIR: Senator Waters, please allow Mr Duddy to finish—even starting his answer might be a help.
Mr Duddy : If you have a region that has significant water resources—areas that are subject to water sharing plans, identified aquifers—then it would go without saying that if they are intending to develop there that there is a risk to that water resource.
Senator WATERS: Mr Duddy, it has to be a significant impact on the water resource though, not a significant water resource.
Mr Duddy : Yes, but the significant water resource has to be there prior to you—
Senator WATERS: Yes, the impact has to be significant.
Mr Duddy : Yes. So I think you can safely say that if they are talking about a mine of any significant scale along the lines of, as I said earlier, not a 30 million tonne over 50 years—and they are not building mines like that in New South Wales—
Senator WATERS: I think you mean to say eight or 10, not 30 there.
Mr Duddy : Yes, eight or ten—but projects that go to some millions of tonnes a year, I think you can safely say that there is a significant risk.
Senator WATERS: I completely agree with you; I am just concerned that the wording of the bill might not reflect what you and I would wish it to reflect.
Mr Duddy : Going back to my original point, which is: if we make things too prescriptive, you tend to rule things out rather than include them.
Senator WATERS: That is my concern about the current wording. Perhaps I will take that up with the department.
Mr Duddy : I am talking about it in reverse: I am saying that if you identify that then I think you rule more projects out of being assessed than assessed.
Senator WATERS: My concern is that it is hard to establish a significant impact on water by coal seam gas where we do not have that information—
Mr Duddy : That is true.
Senator WATERS: and so the committee's jurisdiction will not be invoked even though we need the committee to do the work to get that information.
Mr Duddy : Yes, but we only need to get one project that has been assessed so there is a parameter about what is assessed and what is not, and you will find that you will end up with an idea of how it works. We are into very uncharted waters doing this but I think, once we get one or two projects through this assessment process, we will be in a far better position to judge what is and is not going to be a significant impact.
Senator WATERS: I will take that up with the department, because I think it is an important point. As you would know, they do not define 'significant impact' in the act. There are administrative guidelines. I will ask the department whether they are intending to amend those administrative guidelines to outline what they think a significant impact on water resources would be. Otherwise, no-one will have any clue or guidance on what that means.
Mr Duddy : I think that is a very important thing to do.
Senator WATERS: Thanks, Mr Duddy.
CHAIR: Mr Duddy, are you comfortable with the openness of the committee in terms of the requirements to publish reports and the like?
Mr Duddy : Absolutely. I think that is essential.
CHAIR: Do you think that will be done in time? The issue that has been raised that there should be a prescribed time for the report—
Mr Duddy : I tend to agree with that. I think there should be some description about it being required to be out—not in a matter of days, months or whatever—in a as timely a fashion as possible. Some things do take longer to collate than others, but it would be terrible if studies were done and they were released 25 years later. With having no time frame on something there is always the risk, if there is someone sympathetic towards a particular project in the department, of things disappearing.
Senator WATERS: I want to go back to the point about what we think will trigger this committee's role. The NFF make a great point in their submission, and they are coming on next so I will them this also, about whether or not exploration for both coal seam gas and coal mining will be covered. What is your view, just based on your experience as someone who has worked in this area for several years? Do you think exploration either for coal mines or for coal seam gas is likely to have that necessary significant impact on water resources to trigger this committee's involvement?
Mr Duddy : I think it would be a very brave miner who spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop a project, when they knew full well that it was going to be assessed under these committee parameters, and did not refer that project to this committee asking for it to be assessed.
CHAIR: I thank the panel for their contribution to the committee today. Thanks very much, Mr Duddy.