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Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Page: 1548

Mr WINDSOR (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and it relates to the Murray-Darling guide and specifically to quantifying the so-called interceptions to ground and surface water that could result from a change in land use, such as mining and coal seam gas extraction, in areas such as the Liverpool Plains. The minister said yesterday that he took a ‘highly precautionary approach’ to artesian water in Queensland. What views does the minister have in relation to groundwater accounting in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and mining and gas approvals when the science relating to connectivity issues of ground and surface water and subsurface interceptions is not known? (Time expired)

Mr BURKE (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) —I thank the member for New England for the question. One of the things that the Murray-Darling Basin guide does, which has not received much attention at all but is actually very important, is that it starts to look at a whole new way of counting all the water. There have been complaints from farmers, for example, for many years about forestry interception not being counted. There have been complaints about many different forms of interception not being counted, with irrigation pumps actually being the only sort of diversion that is taken account of.

One of the very good things within the guide which is now starting a new part of the discussion is to start to look at all forms of interception. It is quite a leap forward from where these arguments have been previously. It has not really taken off in the public discussion yet but it will be something that comes through in the consultation, and I think it is something that we certainly support. I appreciate the comments made by the member for New England in terms of New South Wales coal seam gas extraction.

Mr Hunt interjecting

Mr BURKE —And it is marked ‘confidential’ so I do not have to table it. With respect to the similarities between some of the issues raised on the Liverpool Plains and the comments I made yesterday, the member for New England is right, and the advice that I receive from Geoscience Australia backs this up, that the science on coal seams is limited. That is why there will be some coal seams which are watertight and some which are porous. The conditions that I imposed on the Queensland projects I referred to yesterday demanded that individual testing will have to take place seam-by-seam. If the individual seams turn out to be watertight, then in those situations there is not connectivity, but where there is connectivity there needs to be either repressurisation or water actually being reinjected into the seam.

The reason for this is you want to avoid a situation where—with your water table issues on the Liverpool Plains or with the Queensland example, the Great Artesian Basin—you do not create a void of water which, because it is porous, causes water to actually backfill and therefore you lose the water you otherwise would have had access to. It is a genuine concern. Geoscience Australia was saying there will be seams where this may apply and there will be seams where it may not. My view and what is reflected in those conditions is that that needs to be precautionary and you need to test every seam.