Concerns rising for Channel Country rivers

concernTHE Queensland Government has ruled out open cut mining and capped water extraction in the Channel Country of western Queensland, as it pushes ahead plans to overturn the Wild Rivers Act 2005.
Peak mining and agricultural groups have long to advocated for the relaxation of protections for the region’s river beds and floodplains, despite ongoing protests from environmental and indigenous groups.
On 31 July, Queensland Natural Resources and Mines minister Andrew Cripps provided the first details of the management framework the Government intended to use in place of the Act.
“Open-cut mining will not be allowed in the Channel Country and oil and gas development will be strictly controlled under strengthened conditions to be contained in the Environmental Protection Act,” Mr Cripps said in a statement.
“This will mean proposed petroleum and gas developments will be subject to stronger environmental conditioning than in any other part of Queensland,” he said.
“A special Channel Country Protection Area will be created which will protect a greater area of riverine channels and flood plains than the existing Wild Rivers legislation.”
Mr Cripps labelled the Labor Government’s Wild Rivers legislation as “restrictive”, stating that his new framework would “strike a balance between protection of the environment and sustainable economic development”.
Earlier in the month, Mr Cripps announced the results of a report by the Western Rivers Advisory Panel (WRAP) on the future management of the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper Creek catchments.
These catchments run into Lake Eyre and are currently protected under the Act, which aims to preserve the natural values of rivers that have all – or almost all – of their natural values intact, and provide for the preservation of the natural values of rivers in the Lake Eyre Basin.
Debate around the Wild Rivers Act has been rampant since 2010 when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced a federal intervention into the state’s environmental legislation, to overturn the Act.
“The Newman Government has today ripped up protection for wild rivers in the Channel Country, opening up previously off-limits areas of western Queensland to oil and coal seam gas mining,” Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said in a statement.
“The wishes of traditional owners and local graziers have been ignored, with the Newman Government once again doing the bidding of the big mining companies, even though the Wild Rivers Advisory Panel recommended a total ban on mining in floodplains, major rivers, tributaries and lakes.
“The Channel Country’s wild rivers, some of the last free-flowing rivers in the world, support floodplain grazing and have significant cultural value for indigenous groups – they are no place for coal seam gas mining.”
The Channel Country is a region of outback Australia that sits upon the Cooper and Eromanga Basins, mainly in Queensland but also in portions of South Australia, the Northern Territory and NSW.
The land is criss-crossed with intertwined rivulets that cover 150,000 square kilometres. “Coal seam gas mining threatens these pristine, sacred rivers with masses of salty wastewater and through contamination and depletion of the groundwater these river systems connect with,” Ms Waters said.
Prior to Mr Cripps’ announcement, Traditional Owner for Mithaka country near Windora George Gorringe told media he was concerned the Queensland Government would push ahead with changes without proper consultation.
“Wild River declarations protected the special parts of these rivers by setting aside a small area of the catchments and saying mining, gas and oil projects should not take place,” Mr Gorringe said.
“We know these projects need to happen to provide jobs and money for Aboriginal people.
“But under this new state government, we have a minister for Natural Resources and Mines who is looking to remove the Wild Rivers Declarations and in all likelihood put a much weaker level of protection in place.”
Mr Cripps advised that he would continue to consider the findings of the WRAP report and finalise his recommendations by the end of the year.