Gas projects to require Commonwealth approval after Labor-Greens deal expands water trigger

Gas projects to require Commonwealth approval after Labor-Greens deal expands water trigger
  • PublishedDecember 6, 2023

The water trigger ensures that fracking projects are assessed by the Commonwealth for their impact on water supplies. 

It had previously applied to coal seam gas projects and after a deal was struck with the Greens to support biodiversity legislation, it will now apply to other types of unconventional gas projects, including shale gas.

Expanding the water trigger was a pre-election promise by Labor, which the Greens argued must be amended this year.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the updated water trigger as a “big win” for the environment and a roadblock for the gas industry.

“This was a big win for the environment, a big win for nature and a blow to the big gas companies,” she said.

Expanded trigger opposed by mining industry

Samantha McCulloch from industry group Australian Energy Producers said the updated water trigger legislation would create “unnecessary duplication” and offer “another barrier to unlocking gas supply”.

“Changes passed by the Senate last night pre-empted proper process and consultation under the ongoing reform of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act,” she said.

Proponents of the expanded trigger, Lock the Gate, expected this week’s changes would likely affect proposed fracking projects in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin, WA’s Kimberley and south-west Queensland.

“[This is an] incredible step for iconic Australian water sources, like the Mataranka Hot Springs in the NT and the Fitzroy River Catchment in the Kimberley,” Lock the Gate spokeswoman Carmel Flint said.

More to nature repair than water trigger

The water trigger was expanded as part of new legislation that seeks to establish a market that promotes protecting and restoring nature.

The Nature Repair bill, formerly known as the Nature Repair Market bill, paves the way for landholders to earn tradeable credits for promoting native habitat and species.

Projects such as fencing off creek beds or removing invasive species could be eligible for such credits.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) welcomed the legislation but said it “could have been much better”.

The NFF had been seeking protections so that prime farming land couldn’t be locked up for biodiversity markets.

The farm lobby also wanted limits on how public land managers could contribute to the biodiversity market, arguing the management and restoration of crown land should be publicly funded.

“The establishment of a functioning marketplace must now be the priority. This legislation does not constitute a marketplace, it simply lays the groundwork for one to be established,” the NFF said.

Tanya Plibersek Sarah Hanson-Young Press Conference
It’s the second deal in as many weeks between Sarah Hanson-Young and Tanya Plibersek. ( ABC News: Matt Roberts )

But Farmers for Climate Action’s Natalie Collard said she was delighted the legislation had passed.

“This means that farmers will be able to make drought-proof income from biodiversity and carbon credits together,” Ms Collard said.

Conservation groups have welcomed the removal of offsets from the nature repair legislation, another amendment sought by the Greens.

“At best, offsets are ineffective at protecting the diversity of nature in Australia, at worst they facilitate the destruction of irreplaceable habitat,” Kelly O’Shanassy from the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

“A lot of important wildlife habitat is on private land, so it makes sense for the government to encourage private land holders to preserve and protect biodiversity on their land, but nature repair markets are experimental and difficult to make work because nature is so diverse.

“The test of success will be whether it delivers real benefits for nature.”

David Pocock press conference
David Pocock is concerned about the integrity of a market for biodiversity credits.( ABC News: David Sciasci )

Pocock raises integrity concerns

Independent ACT senator David Pocock welcomed the updated water trigger but had concerns about the nature repair commitments.

“If we are going to encourage private sector investment, we need a market mechanism that has integrity,” Senator Pocock said.

“Despite serious concerns being raised about the integrity of the carbon market overseen by the Clean Energy Regulator, this bill entrusts a new biodiversity market to the same regulator.

“During consultations for this bill there was a consensus that it would need government investment to kick-start it, as happened with the carbon market, but we have no commitment to additional funding.”

A biodiversity market was first proposed by then-agriculture minister David Littleproud, but the Coalition did not support the legislation.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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