Committee to assess mining impacts

A LACK of trust in the political process was a driving factor behind independent MP Tony Windsor's push for a scientific committee to assess major coal and coal seam gas projects.

The committee, enshrined in Commonwealth law just weeks ago, will assess the potential effects of large coal and CSG projects on water resources across the country.

Part of that role will include bio-regional assessments of specific regions including the Liverpool Plains, Darling Downs, Galilee Basin and Northern Rivers regions.

But Mr Windsor said the committee would not protect ground-water unless the bio-regional assessments were completed before major projects were given the go-ahead by state and federal environment ministers.

He said comments from the Minerals Council of Australia also showed the mining industry preferred the assessments were completed as part of, or before, exploration licences were issued.

"It is in the interests of the mining industry to have the bio-regional assessments done before the licences are issued, so they don't spend money exploring an area only to be turned down when they apply for a mining licence."

In a speech to the Academy of Science in Canberra on Tuesday night, Mr Windsor outlined his concerns and hopes for solving the conflict between agriculture and the extractive industries.

"I believe that conflict can be resolved, but it's not going to be resolved from one side yelling at the other a fence," he said.

"That's where people power really has a role to play - local residents have to demand that companies and the government ensure there is no risk - and if there is any risk, then the precautionary principle should take precedence."

Mr Windsor said he also had concerns that water did not play a role in the federal environmental approvals process.

"There is room for and much greater role for the Federal Government - if the Federal Government was big enough to get involved in the Murray Darling Basin, it is big enough to get involved in this issue," he said.

Two bills to ensure water resources were taken into account by the Commonwealth when approving major coal and CSG projects have so far failed to gain traction.

With one from Mr Windsor removed from the parliamentary notice paper earlier this year, and a second by Senator Larissa Waters currently adjourned for debate.

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