11 June 2024. Michael Guerin, AgForce CEO. 

AgForce is now only eight weeks away from being forced into Federal Court action by a Federal Government that seems determined to ignore the opportunity it’s been given to ensure the safety and protection of our Great Artesian Basin.

On 9 February 2022, the then Federal Government waived through a proposal by Glencore to pump industrial waste into the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), deciding it was not captured by the ‘Matters of National Environmental Significance’ provisions of the ‘Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act’.  The dangerous precedent set by that decision remains.

And while AgForce and the members we represent have made great progress since then in protecting the GAB from that horrendous oversight, the central issue remains. 

There are only two ways that precedent can be changed, either the Federal Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek calls that decision back in for review, or AgForce is successful in the Federal Court in gaining a judicial review of that decision.  

That, alongside the long-promised reset of the EPBC Act, would ensure the GAB is protected for generations to come. It’s as simple as that.

Make no mistake, our Premier Steven Miles and the State Government have shown great leadership in blocking Glencore’s carbon capture and storage proposal under the state EIS process, and also by promising legislation to ban this activity into the future in the Queensland segment of the GAB.

However, the Great Artesian Basin is a series of interconnected aquifers that sit under four states and territories of Australia.  State law cannot fully protect this natural wonder – even if legislation was enacted across all the states under which the GAB lies.

That some continue to suggest that state-based solutions will fully solve this crisis to protect the GAB for generations to come, is scary and misinformed at best - particularly as the risks are so great. This water resource is relied on by many across more than 30% of Australia’s inland area.

The Great Artesian Basin is a national treasure that can only be protected by Federal Environmental law.

Glencore prepared various models in support of its project.  However, subsequent third-party technical reviews have shown serious concerns about their reliability.  

Essential elements of groundwater impact assessment modelling such as input parameters, parameter sensitivity, model calibration and uncertainty have not been adequately presented and give little confidence in the company’s predictions of groundwater impacts.  

And this leaves a loophole that encourages other companies to follow Glencore’s lead and see if they can leverage the precedent set when the Glencore proposal was waived through by the Federal Government in February 2022.

Let’s hope we can avoid having to take this to court, but be assured that AgForce is committed to getting proper protections in place and will leave no stone unturned in that pursuit.   

If that involves going to court to ensure the protection of one of Australia’s most vital resources for inland Australia, then so be it.