The Queensland Government, in an effort to support the growth of the resources sector, is proposing to restrict community rights to object to mines (coal, bauxite, gold, uranium, etc).
(edited 30 March 2014)
The government’s discussion paper, which is part of a larger ‘Governing for Growth’ initiative, looks at the current notification and objection process for proposed mines and suggests changes to the law to ‘speed up’ project approvals and ‘stimulate’ Queensland’s economy.
You can download the 'Mining lease notification and objection discussion paper' here.
What does EDO Qld think about this?
We are concerned whenever we see a proposed reduction in community participation rights. As many of us know, mining projects (including their associated infrastructure) are some of the biggest and most environmentally risky activities in Queensland, if not the whole of Australia.
The State Government (erroneously) claims that individuals and groups have been deliberately lodging objections to delay or obstruct mining projects so they think they need to change the law to stop this from happening. There is absolutely 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 at any time mining companies are entitled to apply to strike out an objection.
EDO Qld strongly opposes the following proposed changes in the discussion paper:
- Limiting the right to object to a mining lease (ML) application to directly affected landholders and local government;
- Limiting the right to make a submission on (and appeal against) an environmental authority (EA) application to site-specific projects only;
- Restricting the matters which the Land Court can consider for a ML objection;
- Removing the requirement to re-notify an EA application when an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been conducted under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld); and
- Removing restricted land status in situations where a miner is granted exclusive surface rights to access land (for example, open cut mines).
EDO Qld instead supports the current and long-established laws for open standing, for any person or group to be entitled to object to any mining proposal (both ML and EA) in open court to have evidence scrutinised about the benefits and detriments of a proposed mine.
So what exactly is being proposed?
Under the current law, mining companies require both a ML and an EA to start their operations. The ML gives the company the right to access the land and the minerals, whilst the EA (a separate approval from the government) sets out all the operating conditions and environmental restrictions for the project.
At the moment, anyone can object to an application for a ML as well as an application for an EA. Lodging an objection means the Land Court will automatically hear the issues in dispute be they social, environmental or economic. The Court will then make a ‘recommendation’ to the State government about whether the mine should proceed.
In this discussion paper, the government is proposing to limit those who can object to the grant of an ML to only those landholders directly affected by a proposed mine and to the Local Council in the area where the mine is proposed. For the EA application, which deals with the environmental impacts, only ‘higher risk’ applications will be publicly notified for objection.
How does this affect me?
Anyone who isn’t a ‘directly affected landholder’ will lose the right to object to applications for ML. As the government has not yet defined ‘directly affected landholder’ it is unclear who will retain their right to object the grant of an ML. It would appear to exclude anyone who does not own land and possibly those who are indirectly affected by the mine such as through impacts on water resources, economic impacts or climate change impacts. This will mean that members of the broader community who aren’t directly affected landholders will be denied the opportunity to object to the grant of the ML.
The right of anyone to object to an EA application will also be restricted to the ‘highest risk’ applications only. It’s hard to tell exactly what will be defined as a ‘highest risk’ application. The proposal is that set ‘eligibility criteria’ will separate high and low risk EA applications. There are eligibility criteria for mining activities already developed. However, the paper says that they are currently being reviewed by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and that the community will have an opportunity to comment prior to them being finalised.
The government says that out of about 100 mining lease applications each year, about 10% are declared to be high risk. This means that for 90% of mining projects in Queensland, there will be no community submission and objection rights at all. What’s more, there will be no public notification of these ‘lower risk’ projects so you may not even be aware they are underway. There is nothing in the paper about how the government intends to address the cumulative impacts of many hundreds if not thousands of ‘low risk’ mining projects take place across Queensland.
Hundreds of community groups and individuals speak out against the changes
EDO Qld were blown with over 100 individuals and community groups from across Queensland that put in a submission on the proposed changes. We heard from dozens of community groups and landholders across Queensland about how these changes are a bad idea. We are determined to work with the community to make sure their voice is heard and that the Government listens to your concerns. If you would like to stay up-to-date on these changes, sign up to our e-bulletin.
 Mining lease notification and objection initiative discussion paper, page v.
 Media Statements, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, The Honourable Andrew Cripps, 'Greater certainty delivered for industry and landholders', 4 March 2014.
 Mining lease notification and objection initiative discussion paper, page 7.