Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Water Torture: China to Mine Water from Drought Ravaged Australia

Australia has permitted a Chinese company the right to extract, bottle and sell nearly a million litres of water a year from a severely drought affected area, despite pleas from nearby farmers.

But this case goes deeper than the aquifer in question. It highlights how far governments have been willing to prostitute Australia’s finite resources for a quick buck. It also raises the question of whether these mines were China’s end game all along.

Parts of Australia haven’t seen rain for years. Source: K. McGuinness, ABC

Australia is the driest continent on the planet. Compounding this is the worst drought in the country’s history which, according to the monthly drought statement, will intensify. Then of course there are the traumatic bush fires that tore through many drought affected areas. Several towns already suffering water shortages had to sacrifice precious water to fight the fires, leaving them even more vulnerable.

It is against this backdrop that the Queensland State Government paved the way for the Joyful View Garden Real Estate Pty Ltd to extract 96 megalitres of groundwater per year, from usually prime agricultural land, without review or monitoring, for 94 years, until 2111.

This allowance of nearly 100 million litres of water a year will, over the course of 10 years, just about fill Sydney Harbour — twice over.

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Below is a timeline of key events that have led to this situation. As you read, keep in mind two questions:

1. Water is essential to mining. Is the end goal for the Joyful View Garden just water?

2. As far as government is concerned: is it stupidity on a colossal scale, or rabid greed?

Timeline

2004

Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Co. Pty Ltd. registers as an Australian company. It is owned by brothers, Wen Wei Ma and Wen Xing Ma of Zhong Shan City, China and Richard Taylor, from Randwick, Sydney.

Joyful View Garden buys Cherrabah Resort in Queensland’s Granite Belt, halfway between the towns of Warwick and Stanthorpe. It is a country resort, offering authentic Australian experiences and is a popular wedding venue. The almost 2000-hectare property has operated since 1975.

The red marker shows Cherrabah Resort location

2006

More than a dozen Cherrabah Resort employees are made redundant. The Joyful Views Garden company says it is downsizing the resort.

2008

Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) gives preliminary approval for proposed expansions of Resort to cater for up to 4000 people. An interesting strategy for a downsizing business.

Council minutes (on page 104–118) show the first water license is granted for 25 megalitres per annum based on an assessment by consultancy company, GHD.

2009

In June, Joyful View Gardens commissions study by Rockwater, another consultancy company, that shows water extraction is not harmful to water supply. Rockwater itself says the study is flawed as a long term instrument and should only be used to determine effects within a 12 month period. But the report becomes the basis of every consequent water claim.

2010

The Guardian reports that at this time the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy granted Joyful View Garden a 50 megalitre limit permit.

Residence alarmed at the generous water allocation ask for a review, so do Joyful View who are asking for 5 more megalitres allocation.

2011

The water allocation review grants an increase of the water allocation from 50 to 96 megalitres per year, based on the Rockwater study.

The permit is scheduled to expire in 2017 and monitoring of the water basin is required throughout to reassess future permit applications.

Local resident, Mary Aspinall-Conn told Warwick Daily News, “It shows complete disregard to people on the land and complete disregard for food production for Australia into the future.”

The ombudsman is approached, but said no further appeal is possible because the matter had not gone through the Land Court.

Council approves the expansion of Cheerbah Resort, but with conditions mainly relating to environment and infrastructure.

2012

Owners and management battle with SDR Council over conditions placed on the company to proceed with the “mega-resort” expansion. The local newspaper, Warwick Daily News is littered with stories about the embattled resort.

2013

Queensland State Government, headed by Premier Campbell Newman, amends the Water Act which results in Joyful View Garden Real Estate Pty Ltd automatically granted a 94-year extraction permit with no requirement for monitoring or review.

The Newman Government releases a self-congratulatory statement: announcing to media that, “common-sense changes made by the Newman Government . . . . will give water users greater certainty while still achieving sustainable management of our water resources.”

As it turns out, other landowners are also mining and selling water, but we’ll get to that later.

2014

Queensland Minister for Trade, Tim Nichols, releases a statement in March saying, “Our Government’s disciplined plan to cut red tape, reduce the cost of doing business and speed up approvals is continuing to strengthen the property and construction sector.”

In April the Cherrabah Resort submits a Notice of Variation of proposal to the Federal Government outlining intention to build a further 934 residential and staff accommodations.

Below is the variation request illustrating the “Master Plan” that was submitted to the Department of Environment.

The Joyful View Garden Master Plan

2017

In February, Joyful View Gardens Pty Ltd submit an application to establish a granite mine. The proposal estimates production of 8000 tonnes per annum, on a site 3.5 km from homestead with a life of 30 years, creating 4 full time positions.

Endangered Spotted Quoll

By August an ecological assessment report required as part of the granite mine application is complete. The assessment finds 25 threatened and endangered fauna, including spotted quolls, koalas and finches. Also 10 species of threatened and endangered flora are identified in the area. Council objects to the mine on this basis, but Joy View Garden move to completing the next steps to approval despite Council concerns.

December 2017: rain in Stanthorpe. There has been no rain since.

2018

A background paper produced by the Queensland Government on groundwater of Upper Condamine Basalts area highlights lack of limits or management.

It turns out so much red tape was removed by the Newman Government in 2013 that some opportunistic landowners began extracting water from the ground and selling it for a profit. No one knows how much has been taken under these circumstances, but there are more than 900 irrigators in this region.

In November Stanthorpe residents were put on to High Level Water Restrictions which allow 170 litres a day, and no lawn sprinkler or irrigation system use.

Farmers must buy feed to keep livestock alive, costing thousands per day.

In December, just hours after SDR Council proposes to refuse the commercial ground water extraction application the Ma brothers withdraw their application, even though they already have a license to extract water until 2111.

2019

By March, Stanthorpe residents are forced to Extreme Water Restrictions — 120 litres per day.

In April, surging on with its granite mine proposal, Joyful View Garden produces an Environmental Management Plan for the mine site.

Come July and the SDR Council call a Special Council Meeting, on the agenda are 2 items: drought report and the granite mine. Regarding the drought, the Council request the State and Federal Governments declare a state of emergency. On the second matter of the mine, the Council decide to make a submission to the Department of Environment and Science regarding some concerns. This submission could slow down the granite mine’s application process.

December brought Emergency Water Restrictions of 80 litres per day to the folk of Stanthorpe.

Water restriction advice for residents to live on 80L per day

An Australian farmer sums it up:“Water is money, water is farming, water is life”.

Also, in December, as attention falls to the catastrophic bushfires, the Southern Downs Regional Council approves commercialisation of water extraction on the Cherrabah Resort property. This includes water treatment and bottling facilities.

The news of the approval explodes, eliciting a torrent of anger from the public.

30 Dec — SDR Council releases statement explaining their decision:

“It is important to note that the use or ownership of the 96ML of water attached to the property is the responsibility of the Queensland State Government through the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy. Council does not manage any aspect of the 96ML of water for this development. Water licences are issued and managed by the State Government solely.”

2020

January 15: Day Zero. Stanthorpe now completely reliant on water trucked in from a dam, 75KM away.

A few days later Joyful View Garden announces water will not to be mined during drought, and donates its water allocation to local businesses, charities and irrigators. They acted in the nick of time as current Queensland Premier, Ms Anastacia Palaszczuk responds, saying she was “considering cancelling” their water licence.

Concerns

This body of evidence reinforces concerns across Australia that China is exercising an invasion by stealth. However, more concerning is the willingness of our governments to sacrifice, rather than protect, Australia’s long-term sovereign interests.

It’s not even the issue of foreign ownership that is alarming. Australia is remarkably accommodating when it comes to sharing our spoils. A register compiled by the Australian Tax Office shows one in 10 water entitlements are foreign owned. The concerns are with China as a tenant.

What worries us is that China will be like Michael Keaton’s character, Carter Hayes, in the thriller film, Pacific Heights. He is a tenant who seems nice enough to begin with, but slowly takes over and then refuses to leave, claiming a legal right to the property and trashing it as he devolves into a hot mess of psychosis.

The worst kind of tenant

In fact, a quick tally of what is already under Chinese ownership and it feels like the squatting has already begun. Here are just a few examples: an airport leased for $1, Darwin Port, energy infrastructure, wind farms and companies. At the time of writing 2.3% of Australia’s land mass, or 9.1 million hectares is Chinese owned. But it’s not just about the scale of ownership, it’s also about the quality of care.

It is a well-documented truth that China is not a good steward of the environment.

They don’t do a great job of looking after their own place, so what chance is there of them giving two hoots about ours?

A Greenpeace East Asia Water Quality Report, found disturbing levels of pollution: “China’s largest cities fare worst, with 85% of Shanghai’s river water graded IV and below, 95% of Tianjin’s similarly unfit for purpose.” In other words, undrinkable. Even the Chinese government refers to these river systems as “black and stinky water”.

So why are we entrusting so much of our home to them?

The other issue this water mining deal brings up our government’s motivations. At the heart of most constitutional democracies beats the social contract . That fundamental premise that government should uphold the interests of its citizens. The governments in this case have — to quote Hunter S. Thompson — all the morals of a whore on acid. The jury it still out on whether actions are borne of greed or just plain stupidity.

As citizens of the world we have a responsibility to keep our eyes open to what is happening. Australia is not the only country fawning to the economic charms of China.

This China Global Investment Tracker, created by the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation, demonstrates the global reach of China and the major sectors of investment.

It’s the ultimate game of Monopoly

Our duty is to call out, and vote out, irresponsible governments who clearly lack the foresight needed to provide for future generations. If not we, like the spotted quolls, will find our homes forever destroyed by our very own Carter Hayes. In the film the only way to end the torment brought on by Hayes is to kill him. Let this clip be a cautionary tale to us all.

If you enjoyed my article please let me know with lots of clapping. I live for applause. For more nomadic tales and experiments come see me at Coolfooting where life is a journey not a race.

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Anastasia Tyler

Anastasia Tyler

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A teacher, writer and traveller, but not necessarily in that order. Writing on life, both real and imagined.