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Scientists, farmers, Indigenous leaders' water trigger plea

AN ALLIANCE of farmers, scientists and indigenous leaders have made a last-ditch appeal to the Senate, imploring them to vote against the proposed handover of the Commonwealth "water trigger" powers to the states.

The original water trigger legislation allows the Commonwealth to intervene, or impose conditions on any major coal or coal-seam gas development if it is deemed to threaten strategic water resources.

Under the amendments those powers will be transferred to the states, with the final Senate vote expected to take place this week.

Critics have pointed out that state governments are already charged with regulating the industry and are also the recipient of its tax royalties, creating a potential conflict of interest.

In a statement, the group, which includes former independent New England MP Tony Windsor, said the issue was "too important to leave to state and territory governments and their vested interests".

"The National Party will be voting against the farmers' interests if they vote for the bill," the group's statement said.

Page MP Kevin Hogan supported the changes in the Lower House but said only because he was able to include some important safeguards.

A key amendment would make it compulsory for all state governments to seek advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development when assessing projects.

The second amendment would let the Commonwealth request advice from the IESC, including whether the state government had taken into account the IESC's advice in its decision.

The Federal Environment Minister can also "call in" the approval if they are not satisfied.

Mr Windsor described the move as a "retrograde step". "We need to maintain an independent process that people trust."

Topics:  coal seam gas environment



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