Advocates voice concerns over water implications

ADVOCATES with little notice but plenty of passion have torn into the Queensland Government over planned amendments to allow mines to release water when facing an emergency.

During committee hearings on Friday covering the proposed Economic Development Bill 2012, AgForce, Environmental Defenders, Save the Reef and The Capricorn Conservation Council voiced concerns that changes to a pair of laws governing how mines dealt with water would have implications for those downstream, whether farmers or everyday water users.

Through amendments to the Environmental Protection Act and Disaster Management Act, the State Government would create "temporary emission licences" that relaxed regulations that stopped companies for releasing untreated water.

The concept was to ensure that in cases of disaster - whether bushfire, flood or sabotage - the mine operator could contact the government and be told within 24 hours if they had permission to release water.

Those orders can be given verbally to ensure swift action.

But opponents to the current wording of the legislation were worried that this decision could be made by a junior officer without all the facts, that farmers downstream harvesting this floodwater could be left with chemical residue in water supplies.

That officer may also have to weigh up financial impacts on the mine if permission is not granted.

The financial impacts of those downstream are not included as part of the criteria.

Almost every speaker complained that they were given about a week to work through 243 pages of legislation and a further 154 pages of explanatory notes.

There also appeared to be little to no public consultation on the legislation, aside from with the Queensland Resources Council, the state's peak mining group.

Environmental Defenders North Queensland principal solicitor Patrick Pearlman said this was beyond the traditional understanding of what an emergency is.

"It appears to allow for concerns regarding financial impacts on the holder of environmental authority to trump environmental and health concerns," Mr Pearlman said.

AgForce senior policy advisor Dale Miller said the peak body for primary industry may support the bill if it put in place guidelines to ensure producers were not inadvertently using water discharged from mines on their properties.

Department of Environment director Elisa Nichols said these powers would likely be used if a dam was about to collapse with urgent action needed.

When triggered, local governments would be warned and the release stopped if it posed a threat to drinking water.

The committee must provide its report by November 22.

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