Our best food-producing lands and our finest natural areas are at risk from inappropriate coal and gas mining. The mining expansion that is planned is unlike anything this country has ever seen before. Coal and gas exploration licences have been granted for almost the entire continent and there are plans to double our coal exports and become the biggest gas exporter in the world.
Central Queensland covers the regional centres of Rockhampton, Mackay, Emerald and Moranbah, extending from the Great Barrier Reef across the Great Dividing Range west to the Desert Uplands region. From the ocean to the outback, it is a classic Australian landscape, which supports a strong beef industry based on vast inland cattle stations, major irrigation centres growing orchards and crops, and a diverse, internationally recognised tourism industry. Much of central Queensland is within the Brigalow Belt Bioregion, an area that has been recognised as a national biodiversity hotspot which contains some of the most threatened wildlife in the world.
Central Queensland is divided into two geological basins - the Bowen Basin to the east and the Galilee Basin to the west. The Bowen Basin currently has at least 44 operating coal mines, with a further 12 new mines and 7 expansions proposed or underway. Coal mining has changed the Bowen Basin forever - massive open-cut pits scar the landscape, land has slumped and subsided as a result of underground mining, and successful rehabilitation is largely non-existent. A vast area stretching more than 300km from Collinsville in the north to Moura in the south has been transformed into a heavy industrial area. Farmers have been forced off their land and fine productive country permanently destroyed in the rush for quick dollars from coal exports. Bushland has been cleared and important wildlife habitats destroyed.
The Galilee Basin, on the other hand, is as yet untouched by coal mining. Stretching from Alpha and Jericho in the south towards Charters Towers in the north, it is a landscape still dominated by open grassy eucalypt woodlands and cattle stations, with intermittent creeks connecting the desert uplands to the floodplain of the Belyando River. But its days are numbered - with plans for up to 11 enormous coal mines so large they are known as mega-mines. Two of the proposed mines are double the size of the largest current coal mine in the country. The footprint of the mines will extend across approximately 160,000 hectares, including vast tracts of good cattle country. If constructed, some estimates suggest the mines will produce up to 330 million tonnes of coal per annum - which will more than double coal production from Queensland.
Tens of thousands of hectares of native bushland will be cleared, and two nature refuges will be mined. One of these, Bimblebox Nature Refuge, harbours around 8,000ha of woodland in the poorly reserved Desert Uplands bioregion. The Refuge is home to the cryptic and highly threatened Black-throated Finch, and is supposed to be protected under a conservation covenant with the Queensland government.
Darling Downs and adjoining farming land
The Darling Downs and adjoining farming land forms a rich and nationally iconic farming region of southern Queensland which extends from Toowoomba to Dalby and then towards Wandoan in the north. It is located within the Surat geological basin. The Downs have been described as 'four million acres of the richest soil in the world' and are sometimes called the 'Garden of Australia'. The Downs and adjoining areas grow most of the state's fruit, oilseeds and wheat, as well as producing maize, oats, sorghum, millet and other crops. Added to that it has pastoral areas famous for horse and cattle studs and wool production. The western and northern Downs are prime cattle country, producing some of the best beef in Australia.
Until recently, the Downs were virtually untouched by coal and gas mining, with only four small coal mines operating in the region. But now this fertile country is the target of a massive mining development boom. Already, exploration permits for coal and gas in the Surat Basin cover more than 5 million hectares of land. There are plans for 15 new and expanded coal mines covering an area of 110,000 hectares of farming land and producing 180 million tonnes of coal per annum.
Most of the 18,000 coal seam gas wells and 4,000km of pipeline approved in the last two years are planned for the Darling Downs. Approvals are now being sought for another 8,400 wells. Gasfields have been approved to cover 1 million hectares and new approvals seek to expand across another 2 million hectares. This will result in tens of thousands of hectares of native bushland being cleared for wells, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure, including state forests areas containing endangered fauna and flora, and will fragment and degrade whole landscapes.
These plans come with massive infrastructure developments - four proposed LNG export plants and four coal ports in the Great Barrier Reef, a proposed railway line for coal transport, and the construction of a major dam on the Dawson River to supply water to the proposed mines. Only one thing is certain, if these plans proceed, the Darling Downs will never be the same again and our food-production will be in jeopardy.
Gunnedah Basin and Liverpool Plains
The Gunnedah Basin matches rich farming country with beautiful landscapes and outstanding remnants of native bushland. It is an area that extends from Quirindi, north through Gunnedah to Narrabri.
The Liverpool Plains boasts some of the best and most productive agricultural land in the country - it is our national food-bowl. The Plains are largely protected from drought by black vertosol soils with high water-holding capacity, high productivity aquifers that form part of the Murray-Darling Basin, and reliable summer and winter rainfall. As a result, the Plains generally produce winter and summer crops, yielding about 40% above the national average of food per hectare and contributing approximately $332 million to GDP annually. The diverse crops and the skilful farming community which harvests them are part of the food production chain which brings bread, pasta, corn flakes, sunflowers, muesli and high quality Aussie beef to your family.
The rich farming country of the Plains is flanked by some extraordinary bushland areas, including Pilliga and Leard State Forests. The Pilliga is a vast, intact landscape, a 'Noahs Ark' or refuge for birds and animals that are declining across the country, and a recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin. Leard State Forest is the largest patch of bushland left on the Liverpool Plains, a crucial link to Mt Kaputar and the stunning Nandewar Ranges and a bastion for one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country. Unique and cryptic wildlife abound - the Pilliga is home to the largest inland Koala population in NSW and is the only place in the world where the tiny Pilliga Mouse is found.
All of this is now at risk from big coal and gas mining who are poised to expand aggressively across the region. Historical mining in the area has been limited in area, but coal exploration titles now cover 640,000 hectares and there are immediate plans for 6 new or expanded coal mines. Two large mines, one open-cut and one underground, are planned for some of the best country on the Liverpool Plains. Leard State Forest is to be converted into a mega-mine complex, with at least three open-cut coal mines producing 23Mt of coal per annum and clearing more than half of the forest. Coal seam gas exploration licences cover almost the entire north-west region, over 6 million hectares, with pilot production sites on the Liverpool Plains and in Pilliga State Forest. If the boom is allowed to proceed unchecked, the fabric and character of the Gunnedah Basin will change forever.