The Lake Eyre Basin rivers have extraordinary environmental and cultural values. They are globally important and among few free-flowing desert rivers in the world. They support some of the more extensive boom and bust responses from waterbirds, fish, flood dependent vegetation, frogs, reptiles and invertebrates anywhere in Australia. In recognition of these significant environmental and cultural values, the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers and their management were awarded the National River Prize in 2014 and the International River Prize in 2015. Both prizes were awarded for the work of the Australian community, notably the people of the Lake Eyre Basin and their governments for protecting these extremely valuable rivers.

Much of the water in the Lake Eyre Basin originates from the rivers in Queensland, Cooper Creek and the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers. These supply the floodplains in Queensland and South Australia, eventually flowing to Lake Eyre in large floods. It is the policies and decisions in Queensland which primarily affect many of the downstream environmental and cultural values. The Queensland Government has previously shown significant leadership in environmental protection of this river and its people.

There was initially the threat of large-scale irrigation development in the mid 1990s with cotton irrigation proposed around Windorah. This was resisted with significant Labor government leadership restricting large scale water resource development. The Queensland Government once again has a historical opportunity to show similar leadership in relation to exploration and development of oil and gas in the Lake Eyre Basin. The decision will also be nationally and internationally important.

As stated in the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement: “The broad goal of the Queensland Government is to ensure that adequate long-term protection of Queensland LEB rivers, watercourses and floodplain is achieved while supporting sustainable economic development in the region” (Queensland Department of Environment and Science 2023). This cannot be achieved without adoption of Recommendation 1.

The following summary of recommendations need to be implemented for this goal to be achieved and to demonstrate leadership in environmental stewardship for the people of the Lake Eyre Basin and Queenslanders.

Recommendation 1 - Adoption of Regulatory Option 4 (all future oil and gas extraction on rivers and floodplains deemed unacceptable activity); along with the strongest delineation of the floodplains, rivers and riparian areas identified by Spatial Option 3 (extent includes Current Strategic Environmental Areas (SEAs), pre-2014 High Protection Areas (HPAs), 5 Special Floodplain Management Areas and additional Floodplain Management Areas).

Recommendation 2 – Monitoring of impacts of existing oil and gas infrastructure on the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin rivers and floodplains.

Recommendation 3 – Reparation of damaged floodplain areas by existing oil and gas infrastructure.

Recommendation 5 – Specification of comprehensive environmental attributes for ecological functionality and hydrological processes which ensure river protection.

Recommendation 6 – Ensure that First Nations voices are increasingly included in decisionmaking about country.

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