The environmental annihilation that is Adani and coal: A grazier's fight

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Bruce Currie, the owner of 'Speculation' north of Jericho in Central Queensland (Screen shot via @LockTheGate)

Queensland grazier Bruce Currie is fighting the inevitable destruction of his livelihood posed by the Adani and GVK Hancock coal mines.

WHEN A GOVERNMENT-FUNDED project of destruction, approved by Coalition, Labor and One Nation threatens your family’s survival, your business, your industry, the needs of your children, your community and the next generation, only then do you start to understand why the Anzacs made the decisions they did to protect the culture and country they loved!

“Speculation” is an extensive beef cattle property located in the Desert Uplands Bioregion in Western Queensland. The property spans the Great Dividing Range in the Galilee Basin, which is part of the feed into the world’s deepest and largest basin, the Great Artesian Basin. An essential water source for over 60 per cent of Queensland’s land mass.

In 2013, when mining companies decided to apply for mining leases and environmental authorities to destroy the integrity of the Galilee Basin, we were forced to take on an extra role. GVK Hancock submitted their Alpha and Kevin’s Corner coal mine environmental impact statements and supplementary environmental impact statements to the Queensland Department of State Development Coordinator-General, but at no stage made any contact with us. Their research showed that incomplete modelling of predicted drawdown impact contours draining groundwater supplies to differing levels would go more than four kilometres under our property and the predicted boundary of those groundwater impacts would go even further. Despite this, they didn’t contact us.

Nothing survives without water! To landowners new to the resource impact world, this lack of communication was very confronting.

With much soul-searching, family discussion and some naivety, we decided we had to save our business, protect the agricultural industry and Great Artesian Basin. We had no choice but to lodge an objection in the Land Court to these mines being granted an Environmental Authority and Mining lease.

By simply joining with others suffering the same threats and pressures, and not confronting this threat head-on, we would have externalised the problem and allowed it to impact our mental and physical health, and destroy our family and our lives. This was not and was never going to be an option.

With our objection lodged, we approached GVK Hancock to get protection for our groundwater supplies. A "make good agreement", which they had stated they would supply to landowners in their supplementary environmental impact statement. We engaged a solicitor for legal advice to get a signed make good agreement constructed and completed. As the process commenced, the company would provide a make good agreement, which we would read and obtain legal advice on, and then that agreement would be withdrawn and another agreement would be produced, for which we were required to restart the process. After a number of agreements – which we had entered into in good faith – and massive associated legal costs, we ceased discussions until those costs where paid. After much negotiation and us standing our ground, GVK Hancock paid these legal costs.

Considering the situation we had just endured, being told other landowners had just signed these make good agreements, we were mystified. If those agreements protect landowners, why didn’t we get the same? Or, if other landowners have signed agreements such as the ones we were offered, they had actually signed away their protection. Any contact with the Government expressing concern about landowner treatment was met with, “It’s a commercial agreement” — which basically means: We’re not going to help and landowners can suffer the consequences.

As direct company negotiations did not result in a make good agreement, we were forced to proceed with the Land Court case. To engage the services of an attorney and a solicitor would have cost us between $150,000 and $200,000 for a recommendation which the Government minister can ignore. Justice in Australia is only for the wealthy. As we were not prepared to bear that cost only to have the minister ignore the recommendation, we represented ourselves.

Once news got out to the "bush telegraph" that we were going to the Land Court to attempt to get justice, the phone rang hot. Landowners from the Bowen Basin shared their experiences. Some told of going to court and getting a win only to have the Government change the legislation and the massive legal costs they carried as a result. Others detailed how mining companies avoid and get round water and air quality issues, as we have seen with the black lung resurgence in miners — also a threat to landowners.

The vague information provided by resource companies and lack of commitment to protecting landowners' groundwater supplies in their environmental impact statements make it impossible for landowners to prove the cause of the destruction of their groundwater supplies. Landowners are anxious they have signed away their groundwater protection and potentially down-valued their properties along with that, as these agreements are tied to property titles. Information provided to government personnel by landowners – of their frustrations in wanting more information and commitment from companies – only leads to personnel being silenced or moved by senior staff for speaking up.

Miners are extremely fearful that at any time the mining company can tell them to walk or close the mine and Queensland is losing the sustainable industries in which they can gain alternative employment. People are still phoning to discuss their concerns.

In an effort to resolve the situation, we wrote a make good agreement and provided it to the mining company — they refused to sign. There was no financial gain for us in that agreement unless impacted.

Without an agreement, we proceeded to the Land Court and, after 12 months of orders over three weeks of hearings and a couple of months of deliberations, the presiding member brought down his recommendations that impacts on groundwater supplies could be potentially so severe and so uncertain that the mining lease and environmental authority should be refused. We were grateful for the wisdom he demonstrated in his decision.

With the proposed Kevin’s Corner coal mine on our eastern boundary and still no resolution to our groundwater destruction, it was back to self-representing in the Land Court. Even though the recommendation from this case didn't support the Precautionary Principle by preventing the mine, the presiding member did highlight the massive amount of destruction and uncertainty surrounding groundwater impacts.

The thermal coal industry is highly subsidised as they don’t have to provide binding make good agreements to landowners, hence avoiding the cost for any impacts they create. In addition, groundwater is free through the fence though agriculturalists have to pay $1,400 plus per megalitre for water, air quality is not properly monitored and mine sites are not required to be rehabilitated to their previous productive state. Landowners are suffering the impacts of these mines with no means of escape.

There are currently eight mines planned for the Galilee Basin, with the Adani Carmichael mine being reported as the lynchpin. Even though that mine is some distance from our property, there is no conclusive evidence to indicate we will not be impacted. It will destroy the springs in the area. In an effort to further our understanding of companies involved in the basin projects, I travelled to India in March 2017 to study the Adani company. In India, I observed Gujarat state, the towns of Bhuj, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Morbi and more. I viewed the Adani special economic zone in the Gulf of Kachchh, speaking to primary producers, small-scale salt harvesters, fishermen, community members and leaders, politicians, economists, and journalists. These people reported Adani's deliberate environmental destruction of fishing grounds, mangroves, crops and pastures (destroyed by fly ash contamination) and water resources, and their resultant product quality and income losses. 

While in India, our delegation met the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at Bhuj Airport, expressing our concerns about the LNP,  Labor and One Nation parties' approval of the destruction of the Great Artesian Basin, the Great Barrier Reef and the Galilee Basin. By providing free water and funding for Adani, the venture will destroy water supplies and air quality and thus the livelihoods of hard-working Queenslanders that rely on those elements.

For local government mayors accompanying the Premier to view Adani's destructive practices, and know the impacts the venture will have on fellow Queenslanders to still approve it, is callous disregard for public welfare. View the ABC Four Corners program on Adani and decide if you want them operating in our country. 

In fighting to protect our business, the agricultural sector, a future for our children, the next generation, thermal coal proponents like the Queensland Resources Council, both LNP and Labor politicians have dishonestly labelled my family as discardable, disruptive environmental activists. Such claims, the treatment dished out to us and others, and the rhetoric being dishonestly peddled, only highlights the dishonesty impregnated in a dying industry.

Postscript by Bruce Currie on running in next Qld election as an Independent

It is inevitable that coal mines close, the impact includes loss of all employment, no more energy produced, no more government revenue and the destruction of land and water supply productivity — that is their nature. The current Federal and Queensland State governments, LNP and Labor parties are failing Queenslanders by not investing in sustainable industries.

I am running in the next State election as an Independent, because we are suffering the symptoms of this gross mismanagement and ongoing deception hiding the cause. State assets like the Great Artesian Basin and the Great Barrier Reef should be protected by proactive stewardship to the global community. Queensland should and can become the renewable energy hub of Australia, taking a leading role in energy production, component production, technical education, national and international policy direction.

The flow-on benefits of enthusiastically pursuing renewable energy generation are the protection for our groundwater supplies, retention of productive land, reduction of air pollution and associated health impacts, like black lung disease and secure employment to build the infrastructure of the future.

We know from the records of past elections that the major parties pre-election commitments become their broken promises once elected. Only independents have the ability and integrity to pursue and implement policies needed to address the causes destroying our standard of living. You can vote for the proverbial devil you know or vote independent and live for the future.

Bruce Currie's property, Speculation, was once owned by the family of IA's managing editor David Donovan and was where Dave had his near-fatal motorbike accident in 1987, which you can read about HERE.

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