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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11934

Mr WINDSOR (6:14 PM) —by leave—I move:

That Senate amendment (12) be amended as follows:

(1)    After ‘Prior to’ insert ‘exploration’.

(2)    At the end of the amendment add:

         (2)    Where a substantial risk is identified exploration licences must not be granted.

This amendment should not need any further explanation because it has been supported on two occasions. The coalition supported it in this chamber on 15 October. The coalition again supported it in the Senate on 26 November and then, on the next day, reneged on its support. If the coalition had maintained its support for this proposed amendment in the Senate, we may well be looking at very different legislation in this chamber. I raised this issue at an earlier time, so I will not take too much of the parliament’s time.

The intent of this amendment is that, prior to an exploration licence for a mining operation being granted, a proper scientific study of the interconnected groundwater valleys of the Murray-Darling system be carried out. The reason I suggest this is that in New South Wales at the moment we have a government which is very keen to get money from mining companies and is releasing mining licences for areas that contain alluvial flood plain land with massive groundwater systems underneath. We think, although we do not properly understand the science, that those systems are interconnected and have a relationship with the river systems. This legislation is about putting in place the structures for a Murray-Darling Basin plan, with each valley having a cap. What I am suggesting is that you cannot put in place a proper basin plan without fully understanding the science of the groundwater.

The amendment would in effect mean that an exploration licence could not be granted until an appropriate study is done. I would suggest, as others have, that we do a three-dimensional study where we actually map the groundwater and then assess the risks of mining activity to those particular areas. That does not mean and does not say that you cannot mine there, and it does not mean that it is the end of the mining industry as we know it. What it means—and this legislation is all about trying not to make the mistakes that we have made in the past—is that, before we make a decision to mine certain areas of land, we do a risk assessment of the potential impacts of that activity on those groundwater systems. The current state based approval process is essentially a localised environmental impact statement process. The great fear that I have in relation to that process is there is no regard for downstream impacts. The impacts on water quality and quantity could occur many hundreds of kilometres away from a mine site. Until we understand those interconnectivity issues we should not be allowing exploration.

The coalition and the Labor Party butchered this amendment in the Senate by coming together—obviously to support the mining industry—and removing the word ‘exploration’. That does a number of things, including allow mining companies to leave a blight on landholders’ land while they explore groundwater systems, and they will never be able to mine because of the quantities of water there. What I am suggesting is that, rather than have mining companies wasting that money, we do a proper scientific study and find out which areas are at high risk environmentally. Then we would not allow exploration licences for those areas to be granted. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts would be well aware that we do not grant exploration licences for national parks or wilderness areas. I would suggest that we apply a similar logic to these very sensitive areas, particularly when we are in here debating very important legislation which encapsulates the inflows into the Murray-Darling system. I would urge all of you to reconsider your positions on this and support the amendment. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—The question is that the member for New England’s amendment be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —As there are fewer than five members on the side of the ayes in this division, I declare the question negatived in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question negatived, Mr Katter and Mr Windsor voting aye.