IS THE CONDAMINE ALLUVIUM WORTH FIGHTING FOR?
Last week the Senate standing Committee on Rural Affairs and Transport held hearings in Dalby, Roma and Brisbane.
This is a huge issue and one which has farmers locked in a David and Goliath struggle. Never has a disregard for agriculture and property rights been more evident with DERM behaving, not like the umpire, making sure that too scant regulations are adhered to but as advocates for the CSG industry. This came through again and again in the presentations.
I will confine this newsletter mostly to the Condamine Alluvium. The comments are informed by the Senate Committee hearings.
The Condamine Alluvium is adjudged to be some of the top three to four percent of intensive farming country in Australia, is a natural active floodplain with high yields on minimal water. The underlying Condamine Alluvial Aquifer is very high quality water with little salt.
As is the case with all irrigation farming the farmers are licensed with volumes monitored and all water allocations paid for.
Twenty years ago they suffered first a cut in allocation to 70% without compensation and then a cut to 50% in allocation during the drought also without compensation in order to preserve the integrity of the underlying Condamine Aquifer. Crops perished.
As we know the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) companies have unlimited, unpaid for and unmetered rights to take or interfere with as much water as they like so it is quite possible that this delicate aquifer below our very best farming land will be rendered useless. If the CSG companies were required to meter and pay for their water and suffer cutbacks without compensation as the farmers do they may regard it as a valuable property rather than a waste product which they have to dispose of.
There is also a fear that, due to connectivity of the aquifer with the Walloon Coal Measures that if that aquifer is dewatered and depressurised that gravity will cause water to flow from the Condamine aquifer to the Walloons.
This is before even any above ground effects such as farming around a mess of wells pipes, bores and all-weather roads on a flood plain are considered.
The QFF (Qld Country Life28/7/11) wants the Commonwealth Water Act invoked to protect this water resource. Senator Joyce also remarked on Agforce’s submission that he saw parallels with the Water Act which he had been fighting tooth and nail as they want to cut farmers out of the water. If organisations are asking for particular legislation to be invoked to try to curtail the activities of mining companies it is incumbent on them to know where it may come back to strike farmers.
Senators Waters and Heffernan alluded to a private members bill and perhaps starting with a clean slate is what is required. Trying to make an unworkable piece of legislation such as the Water Act work for farmers could have unintended consequences.
Of the hearing participants, only individual farmers or small farmer groups dared to ask that a permanent stay on CSG mining be invoked on this very small, productive and valuable piece of prime farming land east of the Condamine River. Some individuals made very strong presentations and are putting in huge hours to try to hold the CSG companies to account and they are being thwarted by a DERM which is only too happy to persecute farmers but who are kowtowing to CSG companies.
It was revealed at the inquiry that at the same time as CSG companies have had their unlimited access to water in the Condamine Aquifer reaffirmed by Section 185 of the Petroleum and Gas Act, farmers on the Condamine Alluvium, according to the Central Downs Irrigators Ltd. were having access reduced and had to pay for the installation of new meters on their bores.
The State Government has made much of their “make good” provisions if a bore is dewatered.
No-one has a clue what this means or how a company will make good. They have 3 years to do it, no-one knows what negotiations will take place or whether it will go to court and a level of proof be required. Until there is some experience of how it will work in practice it is a meaningless phrase.
For anyone who has the time the transcripts are worth a read.
Joanne Rea, Chairman
Property Rights Australia
Phone: 07 49213430
Fax: 07 49213870
STAND YOUR GROUND