Critical data on water quality kept from the public
THE State Opposition is considering whether to formally accuse Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell of misleading Parliament, after he described his department as "completely transparent" on water released from coal mines.
On July 19, under questioning from Opposition environment spokeswoman Jackie Trad during Budget Estimates, Mr Powell defended his handling of mine water discharges in Central Queensland saying all necessary information for councils, residents and industry was available on government websites.
"We are completely and utterly transparent and any suggestion we are not is false and misleading," he said.
APN has since learned critical data on water quality was kept from the public, labelled "commercial-in-confidence", a justification questioned by the Opposition and water experts.
The government's record on water was tarnished earlier this year when APN found it failed to advise Banana Shire Council that 500 million litres of mine run-off were released upstream of Biloela's drinking supply.
The state publishes some mine water data online at Fitzroyriver.qld.gov.au, but does not include "electrical conductivity" - the amount of salt in the liquid.
When asked about the data, Minister Powell told APN the figures were not made public because they were "commercially sensitive".
For those treating the water, salinity levels give a clear indication of how suitable it is for human consumption or irrigation.
Arris Water director and CQ University researcher Ben Kele said it was "the most comprehensive measure you can get".
"If you don't have the EC data, it's very difficult to have an informed discussion," he said.
Mr Kele said he could not see how releasing EC figures could have commercial implications.
Ms Trad said the government may have misled Parliament by saying it was being completely transparent, then revealing some data was kept from the public.
"It is unacceptable that this government is not publishing the EC levels during mine water releases," Ms Trad said.
"It gives farmers, residents and everyone in the district an idea of the useability of the water and the safety of the water.
"This raises more questions and does not instil confidence that this government is telling the truth."
Ms Trad said she would "weigh up" whether to seek clarification or write to Parliament Speaker Fiona Simpson of her concerns.
Mr Powell said his department was "far more open, transparent and accountable" than the former Labor Government.
He said the government was committed to releasing scientific data reflecting water quality of the receiving environment.