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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7552

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (10:39): Listening to the previous speaker, one of the things I would like to say to her before she leaves the Federation Chamber is that I think we have got to look at the Murray-Darling system as two totally different ecological systems. The Murray system is quite a different system from the Darling system. I have nearly all the Darling system water that comes into the Darling in Queensland in my constituency. It has tropical rainfall—an irregular rainfall pattern—as opposed to the southern states, where there is a Mediterranean-type system, and much of the water in the Murray system comes from melting snow on a regular basis. So I think we have two totally different ecological systems and we should deal with them separately rather than confuse two systems and consider them as one. That has been a mistake. For many years we have talked about the Murray-Darling Basin and people in the urban environment have said, 'We understand the Murray-Darling Basin; we have heard about it; we know about it.' Many would not have been there. We know something should happen, but I still say—and that was my submission to the National Water Commission—that we should separate the two systems when we start to address reform and how we deal with that.

The coalition will not be opposing this bill, because the coalition that has been a long-term supporter of water reform. In fact, it was set in motion by the coalition under the prime ministership of John Howard and the deputy prime ministership of John Anderson, who I want to acknowledge brought great knowledge and practical experience to the start of the reform of water in the Murray and the Darling system. We kick-started this water reform process with the National Water Initiative back in 2004. I hear members on the other side of the House say we are not committed. The coalition was the committed party that kick-started this.

One of the issues I am concerned about is the slow pace of the government and the approach they have taken to the national water reform of the Murray and the Darling system. The original draft plan was condemned by almost everyone out there who live in the Murray-Darling Basin and make their livelihood out of it, which is proof positive that the way the government have handled the reform of the water entitlements has been wrong, and we are now starting to see that next phase of that.

Wherever I travel and I talk to irrigators, landholders and communities, they say: 'This has got to be a partnership, not one or the other. We all live here and want to continue to live here.' The money that is spent into the future should be spent not just on buying water and saying that it is 2,800 gigalitres of water and that has fixed the whole issue. We can deal with this in terms of water efficiency and we have got to look at how water is used more efficiently in the system. That will give a dividend in water saved which could be part of the environmental flows into the future. How it is dealt with is terribly important.

The coalition has concerns that the National Water Commission has been stripped of responsibilities by the government to such an extent that we question whether there is value in maintaining an ongoing body. What will be their oversight role in the future? What the National Water Commission will be left with is two legislative roles. One is an assessment of progress under the National Water Initiative every three years and review of the Water Act every five years. Notwithstanding its excellent record, these are reviews that could be performed by the COAG reform process or could be performed by the Productivity Commission.

The government missed an opportunity to give the National Water Commission more responsibilities. I have great interest in this because of the development of coal seam methane gas and the mining operations that are occurring in my electorate of Maranoa. For example, the government has recently agreed to allocate some $150 million for improving groundwater research as it relates to the mining sector and in particular the coal seam methane gas sector. That job could well have been done by the National Water Commission, but instead it has been given to another department that will probably bring expertise into it or establish expertise that does exist in the National Water Commission. The government has given it to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The National Water Commission has done some excellent work on water reform, but if it is to continue it needs to have a job to be able to justify the funding. The coalition will continue to monitor and ensure that the money that is appropriated to the National Water Commission really helps to encourage ongoing water reform. I will just mention the mining sector and the coal seam methane gas sector; the explanatory memorandum to the bill refers to those. In Queensland we have a massive expansion of the coal seam methane gas industry, nearly all of it in the electorate of Maranoa. It has caused enormous angst, because it has hit us like a tsunami across the community in terms of population growth, the additional trucks on roads, the additional pressure on local government resources and also pressure on water that local authorities provide to their now expanding community. Some in my constituency believe that the water being extracted from the coal seam via the coal seam methane gas process should be considered water available within the Murray-Darling Basin. There is a debate about that. I put it on the table here as a debate that is still out there. With a change of government in Queensland, I guess it will be looked at as this industry expands and grows across Queensland.

Last week I was up in Longreach—in the Galilee Basin, quite outside the Surat Basin—where a number of very significant mining exploration permits have been issued. For instance, AGL is one company now operating quite significant bores up there, drilling into the formations to identify whether there are sufficient reserves to establish a coal seam methane gas industry up in that part of my electorate. Once again, if this occurs, water will be extracted in the western Queensland plains area, where the only water for the towns themselves is from the deep aquifers within the Great Artesian Basin—and, of course, not only the towns but also the landholders and livestock producers up there.

It is ironic that one of the wells being tested at the moment is very close to a free-flowing bore that flowed for more than 100 years. More than a million dollars is being spent under the GABSI program, which is about capping free-flowing bores and using the water by piping it out for livestock, homestead and other purposes on a pastoral property, whereas in the past probably 98 per cent of the water that came up from that aquifer was lost and only two per cent was used. It is quite ironic that the gas industry is now looking at how they are going to extract water. What they do with that water will be critically important, because under the Queensland laws—through pressure on the previous government and, as I know that this government understands, under the leadership of the Deputy Premier in Queensland—these resource companies have to make good with that water. But when this industry commenced, 15 years ago in the Surat Basin, they just ran the water down the creeks. Some of them just evaporated the water into the air.

So there is a significant water resource issue still to be addressed—it is in the Murray-Darling Basin footprint and, in my case, the Darling footprint—that we ought to consider. Water is a valuable resource, wherever it is and wherever in western Queensland it comes from—whether from overland flows and rivers or from the Artesian Basin aquifers, depending on which formation people are drawing their water from. It is the lifeblood of our communities.

I mentioned that some people have said that this water should be considered as water available within the MDB—the Murray-Darling Basin. For instance, as the CSG mining operations continue to expand, the mining companies will need water for their operations. The coal seam methane gas water that they extract they are converting for good use. For instance, near Chinchilla they are providing additional water to the local authority there for the community as it expands. That community would continue to draw water from the Darling River system, which is the Condamine in that part of Queensland, if they did not utilise the water coming up from a formation in the Great Artesian Basin. These local authorities will continue to need more water if they are to provide water on a sustainable basis for their estimated population growth that they will witness in the next 20 to 30 years. So we should start to consider how this water is used and whether it forms part of the water available in the Murray-Darling Basin and, in my case—as I keep saying—the Darling River system. The expansion of the population in the Darling river system within my electorate over the next 30 years is considered to be something like 95,000 people. Ninety-five thousand people will move into the Surat Basin. They will all require water for their homes and gardens, and the local authorities are going to have to find where that water can come from. Traditionally, it has come from overland flows—dams—for Toowoomba, and water extracted out of the Condamine River for the towns of Dalby and Chinchilla and others downstream. But with this water coming available, it can supplement the water that local authorities have traditionally sourced from the river systems, and that is why I think it could also take pressure off overland flow water within this Darling river system, the MDB.

I just want to place on the record some numbers for the water that is in the Great Artesian Basin. We talk a lot about this. Commentators in the media talk about the Great Artesian Basin—with little knowledge, I sometimes think, of the formations. There is not one great basin of water down there; there are formations dating right back to the Jurassic age. In the Jurassic age they formed and contained water, but they are separated by very hard rock from aquifers further up. The Great Artesian Basin, it is estimated, has a recharge of about 880 gigalitres—that was last year. The estimated total use of water in the Great Artesian Basin now is some 650 gigalitres a year. So recharge is 880 gigalitres a year, and use—for towns, stock, domestic needs, irrigation, feedlots and so on—is 650 gigalitres a year.

Let us put this in perspective in relation to coal seam methane gas. The total industry water production in 2011 from the coal seam methane gas industry was just 16 gigalitres a year. And the vast bulk of that water was given to a rural community to use, which I have been talking about. Also, in the case of Chinchilla and around there, the water is managed by SunWater; it supplements the town water supply of Chinchilla and also some irrigation water for melon growers. There are some 600 wells that are currently being monitored by companies in the Surat Basin, just to see what is happening to pressures underground.

But let us put that 16 gigalitres in perspective. Cotton Australia have said on their website that 16 gigalitres of water is about what is required to irrigate about 3,000 hectares of cotton per year. So let us run through those figures: 880 gigalitres a year was the recharge, last year—in a very good year with heavy rainfalls. And it does not immediately becomes available; it might be a thousand years before that water actually becomes available, because it just re-pressurises these great formations. The estimated total use, other than for the mining sector, was 650 gigalitres a year. And the coal seam methane gas industry extracted 16 gigalitres. That is the equivalent, according to Cotton Australia, of the amount of water that is used to irrigate some 3,000 hectares of cotton.

So it is important to start to get some intellect into the debate about all this. I have been part of the protest concerned with ensuring that these companies are regulated to the point that they are not going to put at risk any of these aquifers, and concerned about contamination issues possibly associated with the operations around coal seam methane gas. I wanted to put that on the public record because I think it is important. We have got to get it right. I think the new GasFields Commission in Queensland, under the leadership of the Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, will make sure that the issues that are still concerning people will be addressed, but I say this bill— (Time expired)