Value of ‘iconic’ Great Artesian Basin tested in court

Water hole in Northern Territory. | Newsreel
Australia's Great Artesian Basin is the subject of a Federal Court battle. | Photo: Fotofritz16 (iStock)

Australia’s Great Artesian Basin will be the focus of debate in Brisbane today, as AgForce heads to the Federal Court to argue one of the world’s largest underground freshwater resources is of national environmental significance.

In February 2022, the then Federal Government determined a proposal from mining company Glencore to pump industrial waste into the Great Artesian Basin was not of environmental concern.

AgForce President Georgie Somerset said the peak body representing Queensland’s rural producers was concerned the current Federal Government had refused to recall the project for consideration under relevant Federal environmental law.

“We as farmers and agriculturalists know and understand the immense value of water. That’s why we can’t understand why anyone would propose to put that at risk – and our food security along with it,” Ms Somerset said.

“We have been inundated with concerns and anger from farmers and pastoralists. That’s why we’ve decided to underwrite and lead legal action in this way.

“We have filed papers in the Federal Court challenging the February 9 2022 Federal Environment Department decision that this proposal from Glencore to pump waste from a Coal Fired Power Station into the Great Artesian Basin was not captured by the Matter of National Environmental Significance (MNES) provisions of the EPBC Act.”

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said testing this decision in court was an unprecedented move for AgForce, but the agricultural community was so concerned about Glencore’s proposal they were left with no other choice.

“AgForce is leading a campaign that should never have been required to protect the Great Artesian Basin, an underground water resource that lies beneath around 30 percent of Australia’s land mass,” Mr Guerin says.

“The Glencore proposal is an integral part of their ongoing coal mining activity and coal mining generally. Their proposal could cause substantial and irreversible impacts on a significant global water resource iconic to Australia.”

Mr Guerin said letting this proposal through would be tantamount to the Australian Government “thumbing its nose” at several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation and Sustainable Communities.

“The Great Barrier Reef, Great Dividing Range and Great Artesian Basin are all iconic natural Australian monuments, like ANZAC Day we humbly stand in their shadow, allowing us hope that this madness will be stopped.”

Queensland Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Officer Jo Sheppard supports the action.

“The GAB is one of the largest underground freshwater resources in the world. It generates approximately $13 billion in value to the national economy every year and is a vital resource for 180,000 people, 7600 businesses and 120 towns,” Ms Sheppard said.

“In 30 years of industry development and advocacy work, I have never seen community and industry so unified and come together like they have on this issue.”