A voice against threats to mining objection rights in QLD
31st Jul 2014
The Queensland ALA Committee is pleased to announce the introduction of an Environmental and Earth Rights special interest group (SIG).
In keeping with the aims and objectives of the ALA, the purpose of the SIG is to heighten awareness of, protect, promote justice and advocate for peoples’ rights in relation to the environment.
In Queensland in recent years, there have been a number of significant policy and legislative changes which have resulted in the erosion of fundamental civil rights. The SIG has primarily come about as a response to concerns with mining operations in Queensland and proposals to amend the existing laws relating to public notification and objection to such proposed operations.
The law relating to mining operations in Queensland currently exists in a suite of acts including the Mineral Resources Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, Petroleum Act 1923, Geothermal Energy Act 2010, and the Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009. These laws provide for public notification of all proposed mines and any person or group is entitled to object to the proposed mine and have the objection heard in court.
On 5 June 2014, the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014 (the Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament. The Bill is being promoted by the government and interested groups as modernising and harmonising Queensland’s existing resources legislation whilst reducing the regulatory burden to mining companies. However, the Bill clearly favours mining companies and proposes to significantly reduce the legal rights of landholders and the general community.
In justifying the need to implement the Bill, the government (erroneously) claims that individuals and groups have been deliberately lodging objections to delay or obstruct mining projects. However, there is no evidence of delay or disruption using the Land Court mining objection process. The courts already have strict rules to deal with vexatious litigants lodging objections without a proper basis and mining companies are entitled to apply to strike out an objection in such circumstances.
Of most concern are the following provisions of the Bill which propose that:
- only ‘affected persons’ will be able to object to the decision to grant a mining lease tenure. This does not even include neighbours, unless their land is needed for access (clauses 418 and 420);
- only ‘high risk’ mines will be publicly notified for objection on environmental grounds which is predicted to be only 10% of mines in Queensland. This means that for 90% of mines, existing public objection rights will be lost (clause 245); and
- landholder consent provisions currently in place for ‘restricted land’ (basically, land nearby to homes and businesses) will be totally removed where the proposed mine is open cut (clause 429).
Also concerning are the proposed restrictions on the types of matters the Land Court can consider, with proposals for the power to consider issues in the ‘public interest’ instead resting with the Minister (clause 423). Decreasing judicial oversight, increasing ministerial powers and shutting out community participation has worrying implications for corruption. Further, the impact of these mines will be felt far beyond their boundary fence as they threaten food and water security into the future. Mining projects (including their associated infrastructure) are some of the biggest and most environmentally risky activities in Queensland (if not the nation) and the proposed changes should be a cause for concern for all Australians.
Governments should be empowering communities to have their say on developments, not removing their rights. The Bill is currently being considered by the Queensland Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee (QAREC) which will report to Parliament on the Bill before 30 August 2014. It is imperative that Queenslanders do not lose the rights to be notified, consulted and to object to all mining operations. The changes to the existing legal framework for mining operations proposed by the Bill should appropriately be rejected by the Senate.
Amy Park is a solicitor working with McInnes Wilson Lawyers in Brisbane. Although she practices predominately in personal injury and estate law, she has a keen interest in environmental issues affecting people and advocating for the rights of the environment. Amy has been a member of the Australian Lawyers Alliance Queensland Committee since February 2013.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).