When it comes to policing the waterways, the government is ready to throw the book at miners, and rightly so.
Earlier this month the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority fined Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley Operations $15,000 for a breach of its Environment Protection Licence after a leaking pump caused saline water to be discharged from an on-site dam into Parnell’s Creek.
EPA officers were inspecting the mine site, 24km northwest of Singleton, in November as part of a routine dam audit when they observed the saline water leaking from a pump seal.
But what about all the damage farming has wrought on the environment over the decades? What about the millions of tonnes of valuable top soil blown away thanks to excessive land clearing and the once mighty Murray-Darling Basin reduced to a shallow trickle of its former self with salination along its banks and the death of the River Red Gum?
Adani has to provide the Queensland government $20.15 million before drawing any surface water from a special reserve set aside for significant projects as part of the 270 conditions on its proposed $21.7 billion Carmichael project.
This was to protect the environment and the interests of landholders and traditional owners, Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said.
“The water licences provide the mine with a volume of water about 1% of what farmers are able to use in the Burdekin catchment now,” he said.
Anti-mining group Lock the Gate campaigner Carmel Flint, said the Carmichael coal project should not go ahead because the Great Artesian Basin was “just essential for farming communities”.
"Without the water, their businesses are basically finished," she said.
What about mining operations and their need for water?
Farmers and their newly found allies in the Greens movement jump up and down when governments consider offering funding to northern infrastructure projects but are glad to stick their hands out for relief from the public purse when they need cheap loans to tide them over during draughts.
Over in NSW Kores is attempting for the third time to get its proposed Wallarah 2 project through the state’s ever changing environmental laws.
NSW Department of Planning and Environment executive director of resource assessments and compliance Oliver Holm said the department had carefully considered the company’s revised proposal along with the Planning Assessment Commission’s first review of the original proposal in 2014, especially recommendations regarding water and subsidence.
“We support the commission’s recommendations and have now strengthened the conditions in our current assessment,” Holm said.
“This is in direct response to the commission’s review and the community’s feedback during the public exhibition period.
“New conditions recommended to the commission by the department include intensive and comprehensive monitoring of water resources, as well as independent audits of subsidence, surface water and groundwater.”
Hogsback reckons getting a mining project to stack up in today’s environment is hard enough. While the government is expected to come to the aid of farmers when they hit hard times or want new bridges and roads built in their far flung electorates, miners are maligned if they want their fair share of water.
Maybe it’s time the government works out which side its bread is buttered and remembered what mining contributes in terms of exports, taxation and royalties to the Australian economy.