A rhetorical arms-race was triggered last week with two changes to laws governing the resources sector.
The amendments, which make changes to the appeals process for mining leases; and give the Land Court the ability to dismiss appeals against the Coordinator General’s environmental conditions, were described by politicians, law firms and anti-mining activists in the most alarming and apocalyptic language.
This flood of criticism doesn’t match the reality.
Reading the legislation rather than each other’s media releases and tweets would demonstrate to these critics that both amendments streamline government processes, while maintaining people’s rights to scrutinise and object.
Neither amendment reduces public rights to have an effective say in regulating mining activities. Both, however reduce the chance of expensive and fruitless legal cases. Both stand up to scrutiny as being in the public interest.
The first amendment is the change to the ability to appeal against a mining lease in the Land Court.
QRC has been advocating for change to this law for more than three years. It’s an outdated provision, which was changed only after 18 months of detailed consultation.
Queensland’s mining laws are still written as though the Department of Natural Resources and Mines decides both the mining lease and the environmental authority at the same time. That hasn’t been the case since the 1980s. Back then it made sense to have an appeal mechanism for both steps – the mining lease and the environmental authority.
Now, Queensland has one of the best environmental regulators in the country, and mining impacts are assessed through an open public process. An ability to challenge the mining lease itself isn’t necessary because you can challenge the environmental impacts of mining activities at an early stage through the very public environmental impact assessment process.
Resource companies need to hear community concern at this stage. It’s much easier to design a system of conditions and regulations if you understand your neighbours’ concerns upfront.
The second amendment, while not one QRC had asked for, was nevertheless sensible reform.
Under both Labor and LNP governments, Queensland’s Coordinator General deals with complex or important projects. The role is to regulate large projects and to require conditions to manage the risk of environmental impacts.
Projects currently being assessed range from tourist resorts, to agricultural enterprises, an airport expansion, infrastructure including a bus and train tunnel and cruise ship facility, a port expansion and some mining and gas projects.
These environmental conditions also come from a public process, but once set they cannot be appealed. That has long been the case under successive Labor and LNP governments.
Curiously, the Land Court did not have the ability to dismiss appeals against the Coordinator General’s environmental conditions, even though they did not have the power to make any determinations on those conditions.
This second amendment gives the Land Court that power. In the future there is no need to have a court case running for 18 months to determine that the appeal on the conditions cannot be heard. This amendment applies to all projects assessed by the Coordinator-General, not just resources projects.
These reforms deliver a single simple process for people to have their say on resources projects.
This is good news for the Land Court, which can focus on the job at hand. It’s also good news for regional communities who understand that resources projects bring jobs, infrastructure, opportunity and growth.