Stop the drilling: Katter

OUTSPOKEN Queensland MP Bob Katter says it is "grossly irresponsible" to continue drilling for coal seam gas while a scientific committee assesses the potential environmental risks.

A bill establishing such an independent committee now will be considered by the Senate after it passed the lower house on Tuesday night with unanimous support.

But an amendment moved by Mr Katter, for a 12-month moratorium on aquifer drilling, was defeated after it received the support of only three MPs - Mr Katter, independent Andrew Wilkie and Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt, whose amendment for a five-year moratorium was also voted down.

"It is no use doing the scientific research whilst they are out there drilling holes through the aquifer. You stop the drilling," Mr Katter told the parliament on Tuesday night.

"I fully agree with the honourable member behind me here (Mr Bandt) in saying that there should be a moratorium until that scientific work is done and assessed."

Independent Tony Windsor, who has been a driving force behind the establishment of the scientific committee, said the bill was not the vehicle to drive a moratorium process.

"There may well be other vehicles within the parliament that could do that," Mr Windsor told the house.

"This legislation is essentially about objectivity. It is not picking one side of the debate or the other; it is establishing an independent scientific process that is locked into a national partnerships agreement, which broadens the area.

"The suggestion that we have some sort of absolute moratorium until we get the science right does, I think, apply in some areas. If the independent scientific committee and the national partnerships agreement are actually working successfully, that will, in fact, happen. It will go to risk, particularly in relation to water resources."

More than 20 MPs spoke in favour of the bill during the debate in the lower house.

An Opposition amendment designed to ensure the committee contained experts in particular scientific fields won government support.

The committee - which will be funded to the tune of $150 million from the mineral resource rent tax - will provide scientific advice to federal and state governments on coal seam gas and large coalmining developments where they have significant impacts on water.

It is part of the $50 million national partnership agreement between the Federal Government and the states. Western Australia is yet to sign up to the agreement.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the committee would ensure governments made informed decisions.

"In our view this bill is about improving the base level of scientific knowledge," he said.

"Our view is that the approval standards should not change; they should simply be better informed. That is what the bill does."

Greens mining spokeswoman Larissa Waters described the bill as "a small step forward".

"It will not change the CSG rush blanketing the eastern states," Senator Waters said.

"The committee will merely have the ability to advise the state governments - which advice may be ignored - and will not be able to influence federal approval decisions, because the Environment Minister has no water powers under environmental laws until the Greens bill to add this is passed.

"Despite what some are saying, science will still not determine the outcome of CSG approvals, and the federal government continues to refuse responsibility to protect our national water resources from the risks of long term damage by CSG mining."

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said the passage of the bill through the lower house was a win for "community interests over vested interests" and "science over politics".

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