Galilee Basin grazier Bruce Currie
Galilee Basin grazier Bruce Currie

Galilee Basin grazier speaks out on water legislation

IMPLEMENTING legislation that would allow mining companies de-regulated access to groundwater struck grazier Bruce Currie as "totally unbelievable", particularly as he needs a licence to fill troughs from the same source.

After moving from the Bowen Basin years ago to "get away from the impacts of coal mining" the grazier runs beef cattle on a 23,000ha property north of Jericho, in the same area GVK and Adani hope to soon build massive mining operations.

"Basically I went from the fat to the fire," Mr Currie said.

While the grazier has already taken GVK to court over concerns about his groundwater, he flew to Brisbane yesterday to talk to politicians about how proposed legislation changes could again put water supply at risk.

As a primary producer on the world's driest country, he found it "unbelievable" government would consider reducing restriction placed on major water consumers.

On September 13 the State Government tabled a bill set to supersede a law that is set to take effect later this year.

Unless the new bill makes it through parliament, big mining companies will be able to take billions of litres of ground water without a licence, and the public would be given no avenue to object to their usage.

But the State Government is already facing backlash after tabling the bill, as it placed another regulatory hurdle in the way of Adani starting work on its Carmichael coal mine.

Here's how Bruce Currie described the situation, in his own words:

Hancock mines and groundwater: don't shut the door on court scrutiny

"WHILE the Coalition and mining industry have been busy this week crying 'lawfare' and campaigning to make mining projects immune to court challenges, I've been flat out mustering my cattle for botulism vaccinations.

Livestock diseases are just one of the many things primary producers have to worry about, when we're not dealing with drought, floods, export prices and the risk of coal mining depleting our groundwater supplies.  

I am a grazier from central west Queensland in the Galilee Basin, where a number of big, new coal mines are being proposed. Water is so important to our livelihoods that when GVK Hancock proposed the Alpha and Kevin's Corner coal mines near our property I felt we had no choice but to challenge them in court.  

GVK Hancock's groundwater modelling didn't tell us where the impact on our groundwater would stop or how much water we would lose. They also failed to include our water bores in their bore survey, despite the study showing draw-down roughly 4km into our property. 

We soon found that lawyers cost an arm and a leg, so we represented ourselves. Our legal journey began in 2013.

In court I raised the fact GVK Hancock had never made contact with my family about exploratory drilling to get more data for their water modelling. I found the company had no management plan in place if the mine damaged the Great Artesian Basin. Other landowners who were part of the court case called expert scientists to present evidence on risks to groundwater. 

In the end, the judge agreed with our arguments, admitting he had a "lack of confidence, from a precautionary perspective" in GVK Hancock's groundwater evidence and was concerned about the knock-on effects if the GVK Hancock modelling was incorrect.  

Well, if self-represented non-lawyers can poke holes in a mining company's environmental assessment, just imagine the quality of the work that mining companies want us to take as gospel! 

I've learnt that mining companies play down the impacts of their project on groundwater and the environment. On the other hand they talk up jobs and economic benefits. 

Often court actions are the only way to show up their lies, and this is what graziers like me, local community groups and larger conservation groups who care about the Great Artesian Basin, the Great Barrier Reef and climate change have been busy doing. 

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who holds mining companies to account but justice must be done and be seen to be done, and environmental laws must be obeyed. 

Damage from mining is often permanent, yet politicians and the mining industry continue to bleat on about fast-tracking mining projects, cutting red tape and changing the law so groups can't use the courts to closely examine industry claims.  

Just a fortnight ago, the Queensland Government gave the foreign-owned Adani mine special 'critical infrastructure' status. As a result, approvals for the project can be fast-tracked and future decisions, for example on how much groundwater Adani can take, will not be reviewable in court. 

Why would you do this when experience tells us that court cases bring to light and challenge dubious claims made by mining companies?  

I'm heading back to my cattle now and the normal stresses of being a farmer on the world's driest continent. Groundwater depletion by a water hungry and unsustainable industry intent on sitting above the law is not something I want to worry about in the future.

I know Ministers in the pocket of the mining industry, like Canavan and Frydenberg, and big miners like GVK Hancock and Adani aren't listening, but I sincerely hope Mr Turnbull is."