On 2 July 2013, the Queensland Government released a report
(Report) prepared by the Western Rivers Advisory
Panel (WRAP) dealing with the future management of
Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper Creek catchments. The WRAP was
appointed by Minister Andrew Cripps in 2012 and represents a
significant cross-section of the community, consisting of eleven
members including representatives from AgForce, local government,
the Georgina-Diamantina-Cooper Aboriginal Group and the resources
The Report provides recommendations regarding the future
treatment of mining and petroleum exploration and production in the
Western Rivers region and looks at the areas which the community
would like to see protected in an "alternative strategy".
In this regard, the Report highlights the fact that river
protection is considered the primary issue by the majority of the
WRAP, as opposed to further mining.
The release of the Report was prompted by the Liberal National
Party's 2012 election promise to examine alternative strategies
to protect the area. This followed on from significant criticism of
the Wild Rivers Act 2005 due its complexity and failure to
recognise ecologically sustainable development.
The three key areas that were considered by the WRAP related to
large scale mining, unconventional and conventional petroleum and
gas and small scale irrigation.
The Report presents seven key recommendations, including:
Mining should be prohibited in floodplains, major rivers, major
tributaries and lakes;
Open cut mining should be prohibited in "key sensitive
areas" with stronger requirements applicable to other
The State Coordinator-General should not have powers to
override any alternative strategies for the protection of the
natural assets and values of the Lake Eyre Basin.
The Great Artesian Basin recharge areas should be protected
from the cumulative effects of mining;
Mining activity should not be authorised if it has the
potential to reduce or interfere with natural flows;
Mining requirements must include no interference of flows to
major rivers, major tributaries and floodplains; and
The use of a "risk based approach" instead of the
current "adaptive management approach" being used to
manage petroleum and gas operations.
WRAP members agreed that the regulation of mining in the Lake
Eyre Basin should be rigorous and transparent. However, there were
varied opinions regarding what should be done to improve the
current legislation. In particular, representatives for the
resources sector were strongly opposed to many of the suggested
Broadly speaking, the resources sector argued that there is no
evidence to suggest that the Water Act 2000 and the
Environmental Protection Act 1994 are deficient and consequently,
new legislation requiring further protection is unnecessary. In
contrast to this view, some conservationists argued that any
winding back of protection under new legislation will result in
opening up too much of the area to mining and resource
A large proportion of WRAP members supported the introduction of
a moratorium on petroleum and gas development in circumstances
where there is an insufficient understanding of industry impact, as
well as a recommendation to enforce a minimum two kilometre buffer
zone around rivers and floodplains. These recommendations were also
opposed by the resources sector.
The strategy of the Government moving forward has not been
announced. However, the WRAP recommended that the Government
consider either introducing an amendment to the Water Act
2000 or the Environmental Protection Act 1994 or
alternatively, drafting a new law complementary to and consistent
with the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement.
The Minister is currently considering the Report's
recommendations and is seeking to develop an alternative strategy
for protecting and sustainably managing the Western Rivers region.
Any legislative changes will have the potential to significantly
affect current or planned mining or petroleum activities within the
catchments and will be monitored closely in the coming months.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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