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State Water Supply

(Question Without Notice, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: My question is directed to the Premier. Building on his recent prohibitions on new coal seam gas mining in residential and sensitive rural areas, will the Premier honour his pre-election guarantee to also ban this activity in water catchment areas to protect the Sydney and wider New South Wales drinking supply?

Mr BARRY O'FARRELL: The New South Wales Government now has the toughest coal seam gas regulations in the nation.

Of course, we injected some common sense into them in February when, despite the actions of those opposite, which saw petroleum exploration licences for coal seam gas extended across villages, towns and suburbs across New South Wales, we decided they would be excluded from coal seam gas. In answer to the member's question, greater Sydney drinking water catchments are protected by closed catchment areas with regulated access, providing a critical barrier around the drinking water supply. Since coming to office we have made a number of decisions in order to protect the State's water supplies. The Minister for Resources and Energy has banned BTEX chemicals and the Minister for Primary Industries has implemented the aquifer interference policy, the first clear objective set of measures against which all mining and coal seam gas proposals in New South Wales will be assessed in future.

The Aquifer Interference Policy provides clear guidance on the assessment process for aquifer interference activities, including mining and coal seam gas activities—in other words, drilling. The policy applies statewide to all activities that may disturb or take water from any aquifer. For the first time in the State's history we have a policy against which all projects and developments will be assessed. The policy delivers on two commitments given by this Government in the lead-up to the election. We are protecting our water resources by providing clear guidelines against which all coal seam gas and mining developments must be assessed; and we are returning decision-making powers to independent experts by providing the advice from these assessments to the Gateway process, the Planning Assessment Commission and the public.

As we announced last month, the Chief Scientist also will undertake a full audit of all coal seam gas activities across New South Wales. That audit will include a focus on the impact of water catchments. Combined with the revamped role of the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] as the lead regulator, this will ensure that our water supplies are protected. Under those opposite the Environment Protection Authority was allowed to wind down. Under this side of politics it is being wound up to become more independent. All exploration, assessment and production titles will be required to hold an environmental protection licence. The Environment Protection Authority will be empowered to enforce conditions under the relevant environmental and mining laws, including potential revocation of licences for serious breaches. We are getting on with the job of balancing the interests of economic development and the environment. We are doing so with the best work of the front bench and agencies such as the Environment Protection Authority as the regulator. We are using the Chief Scientist to do what that office is meant to do, that is, provide independent expert advice on these matters. That is the way we will be guided in future.


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