Central Coast Drinking Water Catchments Protection Bill 2019

Having stood firmly with the Central Coast community for many years against the proposed Wallarah 2 coal mine, Abigail rose to speak in support of her Bill that would protect the Central Coast drinking water catchment and stop the proposed destructive coal mine.

Bill introduced, read a first time and ordered to be printed on motion by Ms Abigail Boyd.

Second Reading Speech

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (11:24:39): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Central Coast Drinking Water Catchments Protection Bill 2019 is an extension of a bill with the same name that was first proposed by The Greens in 2014. A subsequent bill was introduced by the Opposition entitled the Wyong Special Area (Protection) Bill. I acknowledge the work that the member for Wyong, David Harris, has done on this issue in the other place. I encourage members to read the second reading speeches on those bills for more detail and colour on the history of and opposition to the Wallarah 2 coalmine and the broken promises to the community in relation to this mine.

The bill seeks to protect the Central Coast drinking water catchment by cancelling any mining authorisation granted in relation to land in a protected catchment and by prohibiting any granting, renewal or modification of titles and permits for exploration for and mining of minerals, including coal, petroleum and coal seam gas, in the drinking water catchment areas. It further seeks to prohibit interference with—including polluting and taking water from—the drinking water catchment areas.

The "protected catchment area" is defined in the bill as any area within the Central Coast local government area; land within the operational area of the Central Coast Water Corporation covered by the Central Coast Water Corporation Act 2006; land subject to the mining authorisations EL6514, EL4911 and A405; and, to be proclaimed by regulation, the areas that comprise the Mangrove Creek Dam catchment area, the Mangrove Creek Weir catchment area, the Mardi Dam catchment area, the Mooney Mooney Dam catchment area, the Ourimbah Creek catchment area, the Porters Creek catchment area and the Wyong River catchment area.

The bill seeks to confer protected catchment area status on these areas, directly impacting on the administration of the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991, such that the Minister must not grant any authorisation on land in the catchment areas, renew any authorisation or make any changes to an authorisation. Mining authorisations in relation to the land in these areas, including those in relation to the Wallarah 2 coalmine, will be cancelled. The bill further seeks to prevent planning approvals being granted for prospecting or mining for any minerals or petroleum products over or beneath the land in the catchment areas. Once enacted, the bill will prevent any person using or taking any water from a water source located on land in the catchment areas. This includes groundwater and creeks. It forbids the construction or use of any water supply, drainage or flood works and any interference with any aquifer in the catchment area.

The bill contains provisions to allow the Central Coast Water Corporation, residents and farmers to continue their lawful activity and to ensure that the Act is compatible with the Water Management Act 2000. The bill does not seek to include pollution incidents as the catchment areas are already protected by the Protection of the Environment Operations Regulation 2009. Protecting the Central Coast from the Wallarah 2 coalmine was the subject of an election promise from the Liberal Party in 2007 and 2011 and from the Labor Party in 2015. In a statement the Liberal Party will not be allowed to forget, on 28 February 2008 Barry O'Farrell, the then Leader of the Opposition, told a rally against the Wallarah 2 coalmine:

The next Liberal Government will ensure that mining cannot occur here.

He continued: It will ensure that mining cannot occur in any water catchment area and will ensure that mining leases and exploration permits reflect that common sense—no ifs, no buts, a guarantee.

That promise was subsequently repeated a number of times. Prior to the 2011 State election, it was stated Liberal Party policy that there would be no coalmining in the Wyong water catchment valleys. Over a decade after the "no ifs, no buts" guarantee was given to the Central Coast community, in the face of sustained community opposition, with the evidence mounting about the dangers of invasive, destructive and water-intensive longwall mining, the bill gives the Government the opportunity to finally make good on that promise.

The Central Coast, of which I am a proud resident, has a population of over 340,000 people, predicted to reach 415,000 by 2036. The community has steadfastly opposed the Wallarah 2 coalmine from the beginning, gathering together to protest, holding information sessions, writing submissions to planning assessment commissions and crowd‑funding legal actions. Each iteration of the Wallarah 2 mining proposal has been met with community opposition. I give my gratitude to groups such as the Australian Coal Alliance including Mike Campbell and Alan Hayes, Lock the Gate, the Community Environment Network, the Central Coast Greens and the Coast Environmental Alliance for keeping the battle going over two decades. This Saturday afternoon I will see them at the next rally against Wallarah 2 in Wyong.

The Central Coast Council has been clear in its responsibility to the residents of the Central Coast and opposes the mine, as did the separate Wyong and Gosford councils before they were amalgamated. The mine was the key issue on the Central Coast during the 2011 State elections and has continued to be a primary focus in State and Federal elections ever since. It has been, and continues to be, crystal clear that there is no social licence for the Wallarah 2 coalmine. The Wallarah 2 longwall coalmine is proposed to be built underneath an important part of the Central Coast's water catchment. Mining under a catchment that supplies water to such a large population should never be permitted.

Unlike much of Sydney and the Illawarra, currently no special protections are in place for the Central Coast's drinking water catchment. That cannot be allowed to continue. Recently WaterNSW spoke out against mining in the Illawarra's drinking water catchment, arguing against the approval of South32's Dendrobium longwall mine expansion. I have no doubt that WaterNSW would say the same thing about Wallarah 2 if it had the chance, but only the Sydney and Illawarra water catchments are covered by WaterNSW. It is an anomaly for the drinking water of Central Coast residents to not be treated in a similar way to that of the Illawarra's residents. The Government will no doubt argue that we should not be interfering in its ostensibly independent planning assessment framework. It will say that the 200-plus conditions placed on the Wallarah 2 mining approvals are sufficient protection. It will rely on the mining company KORES to do the right thing and ensure that it does not accidentally pollute or deplete the drinking water of a population bigger than that of the Northern Territory. 

One of those conditions allows the mining company to recycle mine water back into the Central Coast's water catchment—that is, trusting KORES to ensure that water is of a quality fit to drink—without anyone even asking the Central Coast community if it is okay with that. Wallarah 2 poses significant threats to the creeks and water tributaries that form the Central Coast water supply system. The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining, known in short as IESC, confirmed that risks posed by the current Wallarah 2 proposal would include conventional and non-conventional subsidence to Jilliby Jilliby Creek and tributaries, non-conventional subsidence to Wyong River, changes to water quality and quantity in Wallarah Creek, and changes to water quality at the site of treated water discharge back into the Central Coast water supply catchment. Other risks confirmed by the IESC included potential impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems, water‑dependent species and cumulative groundwater impacts.

The IESC noted that during extended dry periods there may not be sufficient water to protect ecosystems in subsidence areas. It listed more measures that the mining company should introduce to support a biodiversity management plan, especially for the endangered or vulnerable species including the Macquarie perch, Australian grayling, giant barred frog, giant burrowing frog, green and gold bell frog, stuttering frog, Littlejohn's tree frog, green-thighed frog and wallum froglet. We have seen the devastating effects of longwall mining on Sydney's catchment under the Thirlmere Lakes, which are now dry. We must not repeat the same mistakes. Not only does Wallarah 2 present a risk to the volume of water supply through subsidence and cracking, there is also a contamination risk. The IESC states:

Monitoring should be undertaken to determine if leakage from shallow near-surface fractures occurs and if the flows through fractures are returning to the watercourses 

... 

Groundwater quality monitoring is needed to determine whether groundwater that has travelled through shallow subsidence fractures … contains metals or other contaminants.

It gets worse. The New South Wales development consent requires the mine to release 300 megalitres per year of treated water back into the catchment. But an assessment of the potential impacts to surface watercourses and groundwater-dependent ecosystems associated with this condition is not required until prior to the release of any treated water, which we imagine will not be for 10 years. The IESC has called for inclusion of data relating to the potential to alter habitat and flow requirements for in-stream biota, such as the vulnerable Australian grayling and endangered Macquarie perch. 

The committee also called for a risk assessment of the mine's impacts on in-stream, riparian and associated groundwater-dependent ecosystems downstream of where treated water would be released. Those are the very ecosystems that help maintain the quality of the Central Coast water supply. The IESC called for a surface water monitoring and management plan to manage the potential impacts to Wallarah Creek, including parameters for metals, water quality monitoring for eco-toxic impacts and a direct toxicity assessment using freshwater species. The IESC said changes to water flows could provide habitat for unwanted exotic species such as mosquito fish, which would affect the breeding habitat of native fish and frogs.

The community still has very little information about how its water supply will be protected from the discharge of 300 megalitres of treated mine water per year. Mine water is salty and contains heavy metals. To what standard will the water be cleaned before release? How will it be cleaned before release? What will become of the toxic sludge left over? Whose water catchment will that be fobbed off to? If predictions about barium levels in discharged water are correct, the IESC states: 

… discharged water could pose a potential risk to aquatic biota in Wallarah Creek when the majority of flow in the creek is made up of treated water. 

I say to the Government that if its mining approvals process has resulted in a longwall mine being permitted in the drinking water catchment of over 340,000 people, and when that process results in a mining company being allowed to discharge recycled mine water into that drinking water catchment, then that process is deeply flawed. The bill will fix that flaw, at least when it comes to the Wallarah 2 coalmine.

I could talk for days about the other dangerous impacts that this mine threatens the Central Coast community with, all of which have been well documented over the past two decades. They include the accepted numbers of anticipated deaths from the additional air pollution, the overall negative impact of the project on the economy of the Central Coast as well as the broader New South Wales economy, the subsidence, the degradation of the local environment and its effect on threatened species. This bill is focused on one thing: protecting the Central Coast's drinking water.

In an era of increasing awareness about the importance of water, when our water reserves are already being depleted at an alarming rate, we should need to look no further than water to justify the passage of the bill and the prevention of the Wallarah 2 coalmine. Currently New South Wales is in unprecedented drought. Sydney's dam levels are at 48.9 per cent, down 0.4 per cent from just last week and more than 15 per cent since last year. Sydney's desalination plant is needing to produce 250 million litres every day. Towns across regional and remote New South Wales have little or no drinking water. Central Coast storage levels are at 55 per cent overall. The Central Coast is on permanent Water Wise Rules restrictions, which apply to domestic, commercial, industrial and government water users who use water sourced from the town supply, but not to KORES. 

The Central Coast total water demand is currently 485 megalitres per week. KORES will be allowed to remove almost one week's water supply from the Central Coast every year. On a rapidly warming and drying continent, in an area with a growing population, this is deeply irresponsible of the governments who let this happen. Water is life. We on the Central Coast know that and The Greens know that. Even Barry O'Farrell knew it many years ago when he proudly wore his "Water Not Coal" T-shirt. We must protect the Central Coast's drinking water and put a stop to the Wallarah 2 coalmine. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (11:08:30): In reply: I thank the Hon. Adam Searle, the Hon. Scott Farlow, the Hon. Taylor Martin, the Hon. Emma Hurst and Mr Justin Field for their contributions to this debate. I am not surprised by the arguments that have been put forward today, but I am disappointed. I am getting really frustrated with the Government's approach. Earlier I sent an amendment around. It made it very clear that if this bill was passed we would be moving that no other existing mining operations would be impacted. To use that as a reason to not vote for the bill and then to seek an amendment is pretty lazy, in my view. Speaking of being lazy, the idea that there are jobs only in coalmining is an incredibly lazy argument. Industries that are dying or for which there are smarter, better options should not be propped up. There has been some rubbish about Wallarah 2 having 800 jobs. We know from the analysis done on the Adani mine that 800 jobs are very unlikely. The coalmining operator has already been caught out inflating figures for jobs and economics in previous mining applications.

There are no alternatives to water; there are alternatives to coal and jobs in coal. Once we ruin our water supply, once we deplete it and once we pollute it to such an extent that we can no longer drink it, there will be no other options. Some Government members may smirk but this is a very real danger. As Mr Justin Field pointed out, we now have examples of mining companies—surprise, surprise!—not doing the right thing and causing harm to our water catchments. Over 200 conditions have been placed on the mine because the Independent Planning Commission recognised that in its current form, without those conditions, the mine is not safe. The Hon. Scott Farlow talked a lot about the very stringent mining approvals process—the same approvals process that Minister Barilaro has admitted is designed to protect mining companies. It is not designed to protect the environment or the community. It is hugely weighed in favour of allowing mining approvals to go through.

I am very disappointed with Labor's approach. I understand the arguments; I think they are pretty flimsy. Yes, probably compensation would be payable if the mining company wanted to take us to court for this. But sometimes when you make mistakes, it costs money to fix them. Approving the mine was a huge mistake. Making that mistake over and over, instead of accepting that something must be done differently, is an incredibly irresponsible way to govern. We must accept that we must change course. The message that Labor has sent today is that it is all just too hard. You can oppose it but things must happen in order to change course. Yes, there could be cost of compensation to the mining company but it would be nothing compared with the cost of compensating the Central Coast community for the contamination of its water supply. I ask all members to reconsider their opposition to the bill. Instead, do the right thing for once—do what they said they were going to do 10 years ago—oppose the Wallarah 2 coalmine and pass the bill.

The ASSISTANT PRESIDENT (The Hon. Shaoquett Moselmane): The question is that this bill be now read a second time.

The House divided.

[In division]

The PRESIDENT: I again remind members in the public gallery that irrespective of the result of the division, they will make no comment and sit in silence whilst they are in the public gallery. 

Ayes6

Noes32

Majority26

AYES

Boyd, Ms A (teller)

Faehrmann, Ms C

Field, Mr J

Hurst, Ms E

Pearson, Mr M

Shoebridge, Mr D (teller)

     

 

NOES

Amato, Mr L

Banasiak, Mr M

Borsak, Mr R

Buttigieg, Mr M (teller)

Cusack, Ms C

D'Adam, Mr A

Fang, Mr W

Farlow, Mr S

Farraway, Mr S.J.

Franklin, Mr B

Graham, Mr J

Harwin, Mr D

Houssos, Mrs C

Jackson, Ms R

Khan, Mr T

Latham, Mr M

Maclaren-Jones, Mrs (teller)

Martin, Mr T

Mitchell, Mrs

Mookhey, Mr D

Moriarty, Ms T

Moselmane, Mr S

Nile, Revd Mr

Primrose, Mr P

Roberts, Mr R

Searle, Mr A

Secord, Mr W

Sharpe, Ms P

Taylor, Mrs

Tudehope, Mr D

Veitch, Mr M

Ward, Mrs N

 

     

Motion negatived.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Members in the public gallery heard my previous request. Standing there and saying the word "shame" is not complying with that request. If you cannot sit in silence I ask you to please leave.

 

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