Proposed amendment to Water policy

Supporting statement/background:

Water Use: Farming vs mining

It is unacceptable not to mention the mining industry specifically as the major threat to Australia's water, either in our Climate Charter or in our Water Policy. The mining industry is the major threat to our ability to produce clean food and drinking water for our own food sovereignty, let alone for our massive food export markets. Let alone the threat to our tourism industry- between agriculture and tourism, poisoned water threatens our major Australian employers. After all, service industries can't operate without clean water either.

Much has been written about unsustainable water use by Australian agriculture, but ABS statistics show that of the 399 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia in 2008-09, less than 1% was irrigated. Farmers are increasingly tightly regulated in their water use. In South Australia and Victoria now farmers are even charged for irrigation with rainwater caught in their own dams. The Murray Darling Plan allocates strict volumes of water to irrigators. However it does not regulate or even calculate water usage by mining companies, particularly not the water-intensive CSG industry. The legal rights given to mining companies by Queensland governments are in stark contrast to the water regulations enforced on farmers and everybody else, not only in how much they are allowed to use, but in how much they are allowed to pollute it. What makes this even more alarming is that the ways artesian basins operate and interconnect is not yet understood, which makes any damage almost impossible to repair. Research, including public research, is increasingly funded by mining and other corporations and results suppressed or reworked.  

In Queensland, petroleum and gas companies have been given a statutory right to use whatever water they need. They must do a baseline assessment and report on underground water impacts, and have “make-good” obligations, but these are not specified.

Hardrock mining, such as the coal industry, must have a water licence in two-thirds of Queensland, but in practice these are never withheld. There were no requirements for reports on their impact on groundwater and no statutory “make good” provisions. The Queensland Labor government in 2016 tightened “make good” requirements and reinstated every person’s general objection rights, along with protections for key farming infrastructure removed by the previous LNP government, by allowing landholders to forbid mining within 50 metres of bores, artesian wells and dams, which for the first time will apply across the whole resource sector. This is of course completely inadequate as once polluted water is released into catchments it flows downstream and across country into dams and wells, particularly in flood events. Toxins can settle into mud and concentrate toxicity which can then be stirred up in future flood events or drought. Pollution underground cannot be cleaned out, may take years to detect with monitoring bores as water may only move a couple of metres/year underground, and will be pumped back aboveground and be released, with toxins, into catchments.

For the first time they looked at assessing, licensing and requiring “make good” requirements for associated water impacts, or how much water is taken or interfered with by the mining process. The Labor government then exempted the greatest threat to the Great Artesian Basin, the Adani mine, (which will have to pump out an aquifer to be able to mine) from complying with the new requirements.

The greatest risk to Australia's emission reductions, as well as to our ability to produce food for domestic use and export, is the mining industry who are pumping our artesian basins and water catchments full of poisons, and releasing huge and unmonitored fugitive methane emissions from every stage of unconventional gas mining and coal mining. Clean water is our greatest natural resource, and artesian water is our only reliable supply. Mining is both wasting and poisoning it. The CSG industry pumps huge volumes of water into the coal seam to release the gas. But it also releases massive quantities of salt and carcinogens such as benzene and toluene into the water, which is then pumped up to the surface and stored in plastic-lined evaporation ponds, where the toxins can overflow and be washed down the catchment when flooded. Toxins left after the water evaporates from the pond are then stored in plastic in landfill to leach back into the groundwater and soil when the plastic breaks down. The Ensham minewall holding back wastewater full of these poisons, supposedly the “best designed levy bank”, gave way recently upstream of the Fitzroy river — the water supply for Rockhampton and many other communities. Fortunately the toxic water was caught in small dams downstream and did not poison Rockhampton's water supply. However, the abandoned mine at Mt Morgan continues to release toxic waste into the Fitzroy River and its rehabilitation is estimated to cost $200 million. Mt Morgan is only one of 50,000 abandoned mines nationally which are poisoning our drinking and farming water. Since the January 2011 floods, the mining industry has been quietly permitted by the Queensland government to pump out toxic water from flooded operational mines into our rivers and drinking water catchments.

Water is the issue which can unite all Australians in a struggle which will take us to massive social change. Because to win we must defeat the mining companies which own our major parties, and the Big 4 banks and the media empires which back them. It is not a small fight or an easy victory. You have only to look at the victory at Standing Rock to see this. They have won the first battle in a war on corporate America, and the corporate-owned government is sharpening up its laws in response. It is blatantly obvious that the war on terror has been a pretext to introduce anti-protestor laws around the world to ensure that mining operations and corporate interests are not threatened.

The Adani coal mine and the Liverpool Plains mine will be our Standing Rock. They cannot go ahead or our ability to produce food will be destroyed, and the battle cannot be won without the mobilisation of both urban and rural Australia together. And to defeat the mining industry is no small battle. It is a battle that will temper our steel. And in the process of united action we have our chance to change the agenda, to break barriers, to build solidarity, to destroy the false divisions so carefully fostered by our media and our governments, and to build a movement that can move on to tackle the corporate stranglehold on our governments.

[Key: Proposed amendments to Socialist Alliance's Water policy below are in bold underline.]

Amendment One:

Insert the third paragraph under Our Solution so it now reads:

Our Solution

A serious water conservation policy has to target the big industrial and agricultural water users. Currently the lack of water conservation by industry and agribusiness means that the efforts of householders to conserve water are being wasted.

The Socialist Alliance says that water is not simply a commodity or an input into industry and agriculture but is the central element of our ecosystems. Instead of market-based approaches we advocate an all-round plan for water sustainability based on a thorough scientific assessment of rivers, wetlands and water tables. Data collection and research, including public research, is increasingly funded by mining and other corporations and results suppressed or reworked.  Public research must be non-biased, accessible by all and in public hands.

To begin with we have to end the free access of the mining industry to our water, in both our artesian basins and our catchments and rivers. Clean water is essential to sustainable Australian farming, and the right of farming and environmental access to it is entrenched in our Constitution under Section 100. We have to enforce Section 100 of the Australian Constitution and protect our clean water for sustainable farm and environmental use. Prosecute and ban from operation mining and agribusiness corporations that pollute water, the banks that fund their operations, and the politicians who allow them to continue to do so. Charge full remediation costs across the entire mining industry for total damage, past and present, by the mining industry, not “make-good” bandaids.

Amendment Two:

Insert the following in paragraph 4 so it reads:

In the country, measures to preserve normal water flows in rivers and wetlands and implement low-input sustainable farming practices are essential. Limit maximum private dam sizes rather than charging for rainwater stored in farm dams for irrigation, and subsidise irrigation efficiency technology to limit water wastage.

In the cities, we need to reduce water waste and start harvesting storm water and rain water, and recycling waste water.

Amendment 3.

Insert a third dot point in the following section so it reads:

No privatisation of water

  • No privatisation of water and water infrastructure (dams, water pipelines, pumping stations). Where these have already been privatised, they should be returned to public ownership

  • No public-private partnerships for water projects. All water projects to be 100% in public hands.

  • All data collection and public research must be non-biased, accessible by all and in public hands.

Amendment 4:

Insert a new dot point at the start of section a so it reads as:

Create an all-round water conservation plan

a. In the country

  • an immediate moratorium on the CSG industry and its massive groundwater use and pollution, and stop any mine that poisons our water and catchments.


Elena Garcia and Dave Riley, Brisbane branch
Alan Broughton, member at large, Victoria