Australia: Fee, FIFO, fum: Changes to the FIFO workforce are to come

Queensland will be making significant changes to the workplace and environmental frameworks for resources projects.

The introduction of the Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016 conveys the Queensland Government's election commitment to ensuring that those regional communities located nearby to large resource projects will benefit from their operation.

What does this mean for resource projects?

The introduction of the Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016 (SSRC Bill) includes important potential changes for:

  • owners (and also related body corporate, agents, and other third parties);
  • of a large resource project (being a mining or petroleum resource project which requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) or the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (SDPWO Act));
  • which have a nearby regional community (which, unless otherwise determined at the discretion of the Coordinator-General, is a town of more than 200 people, within a 100 kilometre radius of the large resource project).

Should you fall into the above, it may be time to begin considering the following changes which may be introduced to the industry:

  • The prohibition on employing a 100% fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforce during the operational phase of a large resource project. This also extends to those workers that would commute by other forms of long-distance travel, or that do not reside in the determined nearby regional community.
  • Advertising or documents in relation to recruitment for large resource projects must not prohibit the residents of a nearby regional community from applying to work on the large resource project.
  • A social impact assessment (SIA) is required for large resource projects to consider the potential positive and negative impacts the project may have on the social environment of nearby communities. A SIA may address:
    • community and stakeholder engagement;
    • workforce management;
    • housing and accommodation;
    • local business and industry procurement; and
    • and health and community well-being.
  • The SIA must be approved to proceed by the Coordinator-General, to ensure ongoing conformity in the EIS approval process.

The SSRC Bill also introduces the following amendments to:

  • the Anti-discrimination Act 1991 to prohibit discrimination against persons in nearby regional communities in relation to work on large resource projects and further to any current or future projects, on the basis of "location" as a grounds for discrimination; and
  • the Mineral Resources Act 1989 to support the Queensland Government's commitment to ending UCG activities in Queensland.

What does this mean for existing resource projects and their workforce?

Currently the Bill does not apply to existing resource projects. The Parliamentary Committee has recommended however that the Bill should be extended to cover existing development.

Changes to the powers of the Coordinator-General

A number of potentially new powers and conditions for the Coordinator-General were introduced with the SSRC Bill, which includes:

  • the discretion to determine a nearby regional community irrespective of its distance from the large resource project;
  • as part of the EIS approval process, stating conditions to manage potential social impacts for large resource projects, where the conditions would not be subject to appeal through the jurisdiction of the Land Court or Planning and Environment Court;
  • option to draft a guideline to set out details to be included in an SIA; and
  • the discretion to nominate the construction phase of a large resource project to also be subject to the prohibition of a 100% FIFO workforce.

Recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee Report

The Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee tabled its Parliamentary Report on 7 March 2017, recommending the Bill be passed. A number of other important recommendations were made, including:

  • increased discretion for the Coordinator-General to determine:
    • the distance of a nearby regional community from a large resource project; and
    • that a town with less than 200 people can be considered a nearby regional community for the purposes of the SSRC Bill;
  • extend the SSRC Bill to cover all resource projects;
  • incorporate transitional provisions to cover all resource projects, including current and future;
  • extend the requirement for advertising and recruitment process to not prohibit those workers from a nearby regional community to all resource projects with a nearby regional community, regardless of size or commencement; and
  • requirement that the Coordinator-General must make a guideline stating what is to be included in an SIA.

Next steps

The Minister is required to respond to the Parliamentary Report before 7 June 2017. While the SSRC Bill is not retrospective, a number of the Committee's Reports recommendations include the application to current projects. At this stage, it will be a matter of "watching this space".

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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