Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Independent Expert Scientific Committee to advise on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining

Media release
27 November 2012

Environment Minister, Tony Burke, today announced the membership of the new Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.

The membership brings together a strong group of experts who will play an important role in reviewing coal seam gas proposals and large coal mining developments and their potential impact on water resources when referred by the Commonwealth and state regulators.

"Many community groups and individuals have raised concern about the potential impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining activities on water resources," Mr Burke said.

"That's why the Gillard Government created the Independent Expert Scientific Committee to provide advice on coal seam gas proposals and large coal mining developments.

"The work of this committee will give communities reason to be confident that future decisions about coal seam gas and large coal mining development are informed by the best possible science."

The Committee's advice is expected to substantially improve the collective scientific understanding of the water related impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining developments through a transparent process that builds public confidence.

The legislation to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to establish the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development was passed by Parliament in October and was proclaimed on 9 November 2012.

"The new members of this expert committee bring a range of scientific skills and expertise in areas such as hydrogeology, hydrology, ecology, geology, ecotoxicology and natural resource management," he said.

"The committee will advise me on research priorities that address critical gaps in scientific understanding of the actual and potential water related impacts associated with coal seam gas and large coal mining activities, and scope what research is needed to reduce these knowledge gaps."

The Australian Government has provided $150 million to establish the committee and fund scientific research on the potential water-related impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining activities.

A further $50 million has been provided for a new National Partnership Agreement with the states through the Council of Australian Governments, under which the Australian Government and states agree to take the committee's advice into account in their assessment and approvals decisions. Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria have all signed this agreement.

"I am pleased to announce that the chair of the committee will be Ms Lisa Corbyn who has a wealth of experience in managing environment and water regulation matters at a senior level," Mr Burke said.

"Ms Corbyn brings a strategic and practised expert eye after a long career guiding environmental decisions.

"I am appointing a mix of members with expertise over a broad range of disciplines that are critical to the important work of this committee.

"I consulted with the Premiers that are signatories to the National Partnership Agreement as well as my ministerial colleagues to ask for their input into the membership of this committee."

Prior to the passage of the legislation and the establishment of a statutory committee, an interim committee has been providing the government with its scientific perspective on key projects.

"I would like to acknowledge and thank all members of the interim committee for their commitment and assistance," Mr Burke said.

"Their work ensured that research was being undertaken and expert scientific advice was offered, whilst the government embarked on what can be a lengthy process of enacting legislation."

Biographies of the members of the Committee are provided below:

Ms Lisa Corbyn (Chair)
Ms Corbyn recently retired from the NSW public sector where she held senior executive positions as CEO of the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, and Director General of the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority and Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. Ms Corbyn holds a Masters in Public Administration - Natural Resource Management from the University of Washington in the USA, and undertook a fellowship at Princeton University focusing on Environmental Economics. Ms Corbyn's notable leadership positions and wide experience in natural resource and water management, sustainability and in the management and regulation of environmental impacts will mean that the committee is well served.

Professor Craig Simmons
Professor Simmons is a Professor of Hydrogeology at Flinders University and Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training. He is a leading international authority in hydrogeology and is considered one of Australia's foremost groundwater academics. Professor Simmons has been a significant contributor to global advances in the science of hydrogeology for many years. He has a great understanding and experience of the practical considerations for governments, communities and industries around the management of our critical groundwater resources which will be an invaluable asset to the committee.

Emeritus Professor Angela Arthington
Professor Arthington is a leading authority on the ecology of Australian rivers, including the ecology of endangered and alien species. As an aquatic ecologist at the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University, she will bring strong skills and experience to the committee on methods and management of environmental water flows to sustain river ecosystems.

Ms Jane Coram
Ms Coram is a groundwater expert at Geoscience Australia who has been actively involved in the development of multidisciplinary, regional assessments of the role of groundwater processes in groundwater-surface water dynamics, dryland salinity and groundwater sustainability. Ms Coram's experience in the integrated use of hydrogeological, hydrochemical and remotely sensed information to understand groundwater dynamics in relation to near-surface, ecological systems and deeper aquifer systems is of direct relevance to the work of the committee. Her substantial technical work on Commonwealth, state and regional groundwater issues will assist the committee in providing robust advice to governments.

Dr Andrew Johnson
Dr Andrew Johnson is a natural resource scientist and a senior CSIRO executive with responsibilities for leading the organisation's water, land, climate, marine, biodiversity, urban sustainability and regional development research. He is a member of the Prime Minister's Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, a Member of the Australian Government's High Level Coordinating Group on Climate Change Science and is Chair of the Northern Ministerial Forum Expert Advisory Council. A former Rotary Foundation scholar to the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, he will bring strong skills to the committee in environmental science and over 20 years experience in sustainable land and water management in Australia, South East Asia and North America.

Mr Jim McDonald
Mr McDonald has extensive experience in natural resource management and has served in senior board positions, most relevantly and recently as the former Chair of the Namoi Catchment Management Authority and member of the Namoi Groundwater Ministerial Taskforce and the New South Wales Groundwater Adjustment Advisory Committee. The depth and breadth of his experience in rural land management and land and water integration planning will be important for the committee's work, particularly for advising on bioregional assessments.

Professor Dayanthi Nugegoda
Professor Nugegoda is an expert in environmental toxicology and ecosystem health. She leads the Ecotoxicology and Environmental Biology research team at RMIT University in Melbourne, is a research leader at the Victorian Centre for Aquatic Pollution Identification and Management and is the current President of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Australasia. Her research focuses on aquatic health, including the monitoring of environmental pollution, the effect of salinity on freshwater ecosystems and the quality of reclaimed and recycled water. Professor Nugegoda will therefore play a key role on the committee in advising on the effects of environmental pollutants and how best to monitor possible environmental contamination.

Emeritus Professor Peter Flood
Professor Flood is a geologist with 44 years experience in Basin Studies, including within the highly relevant Gunnedah, Bowen and Surat Basins where he has studied the impacts of mining and coal seam gas extraction on water resources. He is the retired Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research at the University of New England with an outstanding academic career. As a recognised expert in the field, Professor Flood brings a substantial understanding of the oil and gas industry to the work of the committee. He is a great communicator and educator has consulted across state and Commonwealth governments and the mining industry.