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Cup half-full win for water but Plibersek stops short of much needed integrity measures

Extending the federal water trigger so it applies to shale and tight gas projects as announced today by the Federal Environment Minister is a welcome move that will help increase scrutiny of fracking proposals, says Lock the Gate Alliance.

But the Alliance is extremely disappointed the government will not establish third party community merit review rights for big fossil fuel projects, as recommended by the Samuel Review, and has not committed to a climate trigger.

If properly implemented, the extension of the water trigger will now allow the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to assess and respond to how fracking projects will impact water resources.

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Carmel Flint said this was particularly important as the fracking industry ramped up attempts to exploit shale and tight gas in some of Australia’s most spectacular and underground water dependent areas.

However, she said the emphasis on “consulting with industry” in the government's response to the damning Samuel Reivew in relation to the water trigger was concerning.

“We congratulate Minister Plibersek on making this very important decision to require proper assessment of the risks that fracking poses to Australia’s precious water resources," Ms Flint said.

“This is an important step that will be welcomed by rural and regional communities around the country who rely on water resources for survival, for maintenance of culturally important areas, and for the production of food and fibre.

“However, the fracking industry and its representatives already have too much influence over what should be independent assessment processes. They certainly shouldn’t be given any more influence in terms of the implementation of the water trigger.

“Fracking companies are already exploring in some of Australia’s most iconic natural areas including the magnificent Kimberley region, the floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin, and the Roper River catchment in the Northern Territory.

“The increased, independent scrutiny by water experts, which the water trigger necessitates, is vital because fracking requires a vast amount of water. Fracking poses a real risk of water contamination and drawdown.”

The Alliance is also disappointed Minister Plibersek did not announce a climate trigger or third party merit review rights for communities fighting major projects - a measure which has been identified by the NSW ICAC as a key anti-corruption measure.

“Integrity was a major issue in the lead-up to the last Federal Election, and integrity in environmental decision-making has been a problem for decades,” Ms Flint said.

“Minister Plibersek had a unique opportunity to bring transparency and accountability to environmental laws by ensuring there was a proper right of review by a court for local communities.

“Unless merit review rights are implemented, communities fear they will continue to see systemic bias in favour of vested interests who have historically had 99% of their projects approved - and that won’t fix the extinction crisis.”


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