Australia: New Queensland government to-do list

WHO SHOULD READ THIS

  • Anyone interested in, or affected by, the Palaszczuk Government's interrupted legislative program, policy priorities and election commitments.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • The votes have been counted, defeat conceded, victory claimed, the Ministry sworn in. The Queensland Government will now turn to implementing policies and laws put on hold by the election as well as the relatively short list of election commitments.

When the 55th Queensland Parliament was dissolved on 29 October, there were nine pieces of government legislation on the notice paper awaiting debate and seven further Bills sitting with parliamentary committees for review prior to being debated. There were also Acts passed but whose operation requires regulations to be drafted. There were also other government policies and programs put on hold during the caretaker period.

In this Insight we highlight some of the legislation, regulation, policies and programs that can now be re-activated.

Natural Resources Mines and Energy Portfolio

Dr Anthony Lynham is back as Minister for Natural Resources and Mines and adds Energy and Water Supply to his responsibilities. He has three omnibus Bills that will need to be re-introduced to the Parliament. They are:

  • Mines Legislation (Resources Safety) Amendment Bill. This Bill had been reported on by the relevant committee and was listed for debate at the time that Parliament was dissolved. The Bill toughens up powers of audit, inspection and enforcement for the mines inspectorate and increases maximum fines that can be applied for non-compliances.
  • Mineral, Water and Other Legislation Bill. This Bill had been referred to Committee but had not been reported on. The Bill improves the statutory negotiation and dispute resolution processes for conduct and compensation agreements and make-good agreements. It also streamlines some Land Court processes. The Bill also seeks to clarify and strengthen the way Queensland's water planning framework considers the effects of climate change by requiring the Minister to consider the effects of climate change on water availability and water use practices.
  • Land, Explosives and Other Legislation Bill. This omnibus Bill also had not been the subject of a committee report. It amends the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (Qld) and the Torres Strait Islander Land Act 1991 (Qld) to expand the circumstances in which registered native title bodies corporate may hold land, subject to a number of safeguards. The Bill proposes to enable a registered native title body corporate to hold land that is adjacent to or in the vicinity of their existing holding if there is the same or similar traditional owner groups. This may remove the need for establishing multiple landholding entities with the same or similar membership and administrative and governance arrangements. The Bill also amends the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (Qld) to align gas safety laws with mining safety legislation and general workplace laws.

Also on Dr Lynham's to-do list are decisions about the future legislative and administrative arrangements for mine health and safety (including for explosives and petroleum and gas). Under the new department arrangements, responsibility for Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis (CWP) has moved to the Department of Health, but otherwise the safety functions remain with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM). The Government's detailed plans for responding to the CWP Select Committee report being undertaken by the DNRM's Project Management Office remains outstanding. This gives rise to some uncertainty, including whether the plans for response will be finalised and whether the Committee itself is re-established in the next Parliament.

It will also be interesting to see if the Government follows through on its stated position of moving ahead, after consultation, to insert industrial manslaughter provisions in the resource sector safety legislation. The Government backed-off pushing ahead with such amendments at the time the Parliament was debating (and then approving) similar provisions for the general workplace health and safety legislation. See our Insight article: Industrial manslaughter in Qld.

The Vegetation Management Act 1999 (Qld) now sits in Dr Lynam's portfolio, including the carriage of the amending 2016 legislation to toughen rules around land clearing which previously sat with the Deputy Premier.

During the election campaign, Labor released a policy package on land clearing which included a commitment to reintroduce amendments to toughen up vegetation management laws in Queensland. The controversial 'reverse onus of proof' provisions which was included in the 2016 Bill have now been dropped. The policy document put it this way:

" . . . high-resolution imagery assists with improving the accuracy of vegetation mapping and detecting clearing events more quickly, particularly smaller areas of clearing. For landholders, the advancement in technology means compliance matters are kept at the lower end of the scale and the contentious 'reverse onus of proof' provisions are not required in future laws."

Re-introduction of the modified Bill is likely to be a high priority.

Dr Lynham now has responsibility for implementation of the Powering Queensland Plan and the Powering NQ Plan, including the creation of a third state-owned generation company, focused on renewables and low emissions generation. During the election campaign Labor re-committed to this third generator with a remit to deliver 1000MW of new renewable energy capacity by 2035. The 400MW renewable energy reverse auction which had stalled can move ahead. The next step will be short listing decisions and invitations to submit binding offers which was originally due to be made in November.

Dr Lynham will also need to recommend to Cabinet a Queensland Government position on the Commonwealth's proposal for a National Energy Guarantee (NEG), with a go-head to be sought by the Commonwealth next April. For more detail on the NEG, read our Insight articles: Is the Clean Energy Target Dead or Just Resting and Energy with Honesty Part 1 – Time to Stop the Talk and Part 2 – If it Walks and Quacks Like a Duck.

Environment portfolio

Leanne Enoch is the new Environment Minister.

The Nature Conservation (Special Wildlife Reserves) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 had been introduced into Parliament by her predecessor and been through a committee process and was awaiting debate when the election was called. The Bill allows for the creation of a new category of protected area, making Queensland one of the first places in the world to allow private funds to be used to safeguard habitat on privately owned land. A special wildlife reserve (SWR) will essentially let private landholders and conservation groups manage their land like a national park with a similar level of protection. While the resources sector did not oppose the concept of SWRs, they were seeking protections against SWR declarations being used to vexatiously block resource development.

In the lead-up to the calling of the election, there were industry concerns that the Labor Government was going to action its Pristine Rivers policy by amending the gazetted Strategic Environmental Areas (SEA) that were implemented by the Newman Government to replace Labor's former Wild Rivers legislation. It was feared that the Government was going to push through amendments (via gazettal) to the Channel Country SEA just prior to the election being called. In the end this did not occur and there had not been any mention of Pristine/Wild Rivers by either Labor or the Greens during the election campaign. Nevertheless, industry remains alert to any moves in this area by the new Minister.

Also likely to be on the new Minister's desk will be advice on how to deal with the cross-border trucking of waste from New South Wales to southern Queensland which is taking advantage of the abolition of Queensland's waste disposal levy by the former LNP Government . Labor came to office in 2015 with a commitment not to re-introduce a waste disposal levy in that term of government but that commitment no longer applies.

Treasury Portfolio

The new Treasurer, the Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, will of course be promptly briefed on the state of the finances. Treasury will have prepared the normal mid-budget review which is usually released in December. The mid-year review is expected to show a windfall in additional coal royalty revenue, with the current hard coking coal spot price sitting more than two-thirds higher than the price assumed by Treasury in the June 2017 State budget. Any such windfall could be quarantined for funding election commitments on infrastructure and/or used to reduce debt.

The Mineral and Energy (Financial Provisioning) Bill 2017, which sets out the framework for major financial assurance reforms, will also need to be re-introduced by the Treasurer and referred to a Committee. The Bill also introduces a requirement for mining companies with 'site-specific' environmental authority approvals to have an approved progressive rehabilitation and closure plan for their mine, with enforceable milestones.

Despite the election interruption, Treasury is still working towards the proposed 1 July 2018 commencement of a proposed three year transition to the new arrangements.

For more detail on the Financial Provisioning Scheme, read our Insight article: Qld's financial assurance and rehabilitation reforms.

Industrial Relations Portfolio

Minister Grace Grace has retained responsibility for Industrial Relations while also adding Education. The Labour Hire Licensing Act which she guided through Parliament is due to commence on 16 April 2018. The calling of the election has impacted drafting of regulations but work was able to move ahead on the supporting machinery and IT system. The regulations may go out for some limited consultation over December/January. Many people are sweating on the regulations to better understand the scope of coverage of the licensing scheme. For more detail on the Labour Hire Licensing scheme, read our Insight article: Changes affecting the labour hire industry in Queensland.

Where to From Here

With the Ministry now sworn in, Ministers will be getting departmental briefings on their new portfolios. Of particular note are the appointments of the Deputy Premier to the Treasury portfolio, Cameron Dick into State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, the addition of Energy to Dr Anthony Lynham's Natural Resources and Mines responsibilities and Leeanne Enoch into Environment. These are experienced members of Cabinet who can be expected to quickly master their portfolios.

McCullough Robertson would like to thank Michael Roche, Strategic Adviser – Resources and Renewables Group, for his contributions to this article.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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