Australia: Indigenous groups angry about roll-back of Wild Rivers laws

Stephanie Smail, ABC News, Thursday, August 1, 2013

Feb 2013 Australia anti-fracking protests see police escort for drilling company trucks.

Feb 2013 Australia anti-fracking protests see police escort for drilling company trucks.

Indigenous groups in Queensland’s Channel Country are calling on the State Government to reverse its decision to allow oil and gas development in the Lake Eyre Basin.

The Newman Government says it will wind back the previous government’s Wild Rivers protection declarations in western Queensland to allow some shale and coal seam gas extraction.

It’s ruled out open cut mining and large-scale irrigation projects but traditional owners say while they see benefits in some mining, they see coal seam gas extraction as too great a risk.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Scott Gorringe grew up among the wild rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin in western Queensland. He supported the former Labor government’s laws that put strict controls on development near the region’s rivers.

He’s worried about the potential impact of coal seam gas and shale oil extraction.

SCOTT GORRINGE: We’re not dills, we know that there’s opportunities for economic development, but let’s be a little bit sophisticated about this, a little bit more smarter and stop bloody destroying country in order to make money, and destroying water in order to make money.

Coal Coal seam gas wells south of Chinchilla in south-west Queensland, Australia.

Coal Coal seam gas wells south of Chinchilla in south-west Queensland, Australia.

People can say all they want about how safe the coal seam industry is, but let’s be up straight and have a look at what’s going on across the world with this stuff.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The Diamantina and Georgina Rivers and the Cooper Creek are the waterways in question. They wind from central and north-west Queensland through the Channel Country of the state’s south-west, before fanning out into huge floodplains.

The Newman Government says the region will be free of cotton farming and open cut mining, but oil and gas extraction will be allowed in some areas.

The Queensland Government says an advisory panel, including local Indigenous leaders, spent months weighing up the pros and cons of rolling back the Wild Rivers legislation.

But Scott Gorringe isn’t happy with the consultation process, and he’s calling on the Premier Campbell Newman to rethink the move.

SCOTT GORRINGE: He’s said publicly a few times that he wanted to put Aboriginal people in the driving seat of decisions on their country and we are not in the driving seat out here. We haven’t even been spoken to.

The Lake Eyre basin in south central Australia.

The Lake Eyre basin in south central Australia.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Scott Gorringe is worried the legislative changes will make it easier to put mining before the environment. He says it will be hard for some Aboriginal communities to say no to investment from the resources industry.

SCOTT GORRINGE: A lot of Aboriginal families probably live on the poverty line, so of course they’re going to say yes, we want a piece of that and there’s always a conflict for Aboriginal people, there’s always been a conflict for me whether we invite mining companies in to come in on and work on our country or whether we don’t and protect our, protect our lands and cultural heritage stuff. Yet it’s not the real thing that’s going on here.

The thing is the destruction, the possible destruction of water and rivers. That’s not an Aboriginal problem, that’s a national problem. Australia coal seam gas map

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Some communities in the Lake Eyre Basin have a different opinion.

The mayor of the Barcaldine Shire Council, Rob Chandler, sees mining as a lifeline for locals struggling through months of drought.

ROB CHANDLER: We’re looking at you know, the mother of all droughts. It’s not looking very promising and people are under extreme pressure at the moment. I just think that, you know, if there is, you know, mining and you know, coal mining and coal seam gas production even oil production in some of these areas, it will help add another string to the bow of some of these small communities.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: He acknowledges concerns about the coal seam gas industry, but says he’s confident the process will be safe in the Lake Eyre Basin.

ROB CHANDLER: From what I’ve seen and the presentations that have been made by coal seam gas exploration companies, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the processes that they have to go through to put these exploration and/or production wells down.

And you know, providing the Government is very vigilant and the companies are open and transparent as about the way they go about their business, I think people will become more and more comfortable with the industry.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The Queensland Government is yet to release details of how oil and gas extraction will be regulated, including water use and waste water management. More details are expected in the coming months.

Posted on August 2, 2013, in Oil & Gas and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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