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Law Reform · Nature & the Reef

Recent legislative changes

25 November, 2013

Queensland Law Reform

State Government to assess Reef impacts and uranium mining - comments close 6 December 2013

Assessment of uranium mining and actions affecting some parts of the Great Barrier Reef could soon be handed to the States under proposed changes to a State/Federal agreement.

The Federal and State Governments intend to create a ‘one stop shop’ for environmental approvals in Queensland in an effort to fast track economic development. A memorandum of understanding has recently been signed between the Governments: see here

As part of the ‘one stop shop’ policy, changes have also been proposed to an existing agreement on environmental assessment.

The changes broaden the types of actions the Queensland Government can assess under its own state laws. This includes actions that may impact of actions that overlap with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and certain nuclear actions including uranium mining, which the Queensland Government is set to open up in 2014.

For example, if a proponent wishes to undertake an activity on state coastal waters that may have an impact on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area, then that application is currently assessed by the Commonwealth Government. Under the new agreement, it would be assessed by the Queensland Government.

For changes to the assessment of various ‘nuclear actions’ including uranium mining, see this news article: see here

The changes to the assessment bilateral are currently open for public comment until 5pm Friday, 6 December 2013. For more information, see here

For more information on Queensland’s uranium mining, see here


Queensland Ports Strategy allows dredging and development to continue - comments due 13 December 2013

The Queensland Government has recently unveiled its ‘Draft Queensland Ports Strategy’ which focuses on the five established “priority ports” of Brisbane, Mackay/Hay Point, Gladstone, Townsville and Abbot Point.

While the strategy states that dredging outside of these priority port areas is to be prohibited for 10 years, dredging proposals within the priority areas are still allowed as well as other coastal development along the Queensland coastline.

The strategy will essentially be a blueprint for the environmental management of Queensland’s ports network into the future.

The draft is available for public comment until Friday, 13 December 2013.


Strategic Assessment – Great Barrier Reef – Have your say by 31 January 2014

The Federal Government has released a draft Strategic Assessment for the Great Barrier Reef. The Strategic Assessment is important because, once finalised, it could ultimately remove the need for project by project assessment and approval by the Federal Government for developments impacting upon the Reef. It will also inform the Great Barrier Reef Long Term Sustainability Plan which aims to plan the management of the Reef to 2050.

The strategic assessment aims to take a broad-picture view in an effort to reduce administrative burden and consider cumulative impacts on the Reef. The Draft Strategic Assessment is currently presented in four draft reports now available for public comment until Friday 31 January 2014.


Great Barrier Reef Long-Term Sustainability Plan – open for comment 31 January 2014

The Federal and State Governments are in the early stages of developing a Long-Term Sustainability Plan for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The Plan will be informed by the outcomes of a strategic assessment of the Reef currently undergoing public notification and comment.

The final Plan is supposed to guide the protection and management of the Reef to 2050.

The plan is yet to be developed but anyone can comment on what the key elements/format of the plan should address.  Comments are due by 31 January 2014.  For more information see here


Queensland Government to create special ‘regional interests’ - comments open until 17 January 2014

On 20 November 2013 the Regional Interests Planning Bill was introduced into Queensland Parliament. If passed, will do a number of things including:

  • repealing the Strategic Cropping Land Act  2011 (Qld)
  • allowing for the creation of new ‘regional interest areas’ including:
    • a strategic environmental area (for example, the Wenlock/Steve Irwin Reserve).
    • requiring proponents who want to carry out a resource activities like mining or CSG to apply for a ‘Regional Interest Authority’ (RIA).
    • Amending the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) so that if there is an inconsistency with a RIA and an Environmental Authority, the RIA will take precedence.
    • a priority agricultural area;
    • a priority living area;
    • a strategic cropping area;

For example, a proponent wishing to undertake a mining activity in a “strategic environment area” in Cape York, or CSG exploration in a “priority living area” in the Darling Downs, will now need to apply for a “regional interest authority”. The application will be assessed by criteria (which have not yet been published). Only “affected land holders” or the proponent would be able to challenge the decision in a merits appeal.

The Bill is currently before a Parliamentary Committee and anyone can make a written submission to the Committee before 17 January 2014. The Committee will then consider all submissions and provide a report to Parliament recommending whether the Bill be passed.

To make a submission or to find out more, see here


Draft Cape York Regional Plan – open for comment 25 March 2014

The draft Cape York Regional Plan was released for public consultation on 25 November 2013. The Plan is set to be one of the State Government's new ‘regional plans’ which sets out strategic, long-term land use for the area. For example, at Table 1 (page 21) of the draft Plan the Government provides a guide on what types of activities are acceptable, unacceptable, or compatible in ‘strategic environmental areas’. In the Region Land Use Guide open cut/strip mining is listed as unacceptable, although other types of mining may be compatible.

Comments close on the draft plan by 25 March 2014. Click here for more information on the plan and how to make a submission if you are interested.


Further changes to Protected Plants laws - comments by 15 December

The final stage of the review of Queensland’s Protected Plants laws is now underway.

The first stage of changes were introduced to Parliament earlier this year, streamlining the permit process for trading in, using and growing protected plants in Queensland. A number of submissions were made on the Regulatory Impact Statement (policy for the initial change) as well as the final Bill when it went before a Parliamentary Committee. You can find more information on the first set of changes here

The Queensland Government is now finalising the new framework.  For more information on the changes, see here

All comments must be received by 9am Monday 16 December 2013.


Federal Government to ignore ‘Conservation Advice’

A Bill introduced into the Federal Parliament last week seeks to remove the requirement for the Federal Environment Minister to have regard to ‘approved conservation advice’ when making key environmental decisions. A conservation advice is an official statement developed at the time of listing a threatened species or ecological community.

The Bill is in direct response to a successful Federal Court challenge to approve the Shree Minerals mine in the Tarkine region in Tasmania. The Court said the Minister failed to take into account the conservation advice. For more on the decision see here

To read the full decision of the Federal Court, see here

Whilst the Bill is trying to override the Tarkine decision, it will no doubt have much wider implications if passed. Brendan Sydes from EDO Victoria writes:

“The response actually developed and included in the Bill is a heavy-handed approach that undermines important obligations contained in the Act and reduces opportunities for public scrutiny.”

For more, see here

For information on the Bill itself see here

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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