My Outback reverie is on pause: I've had to return to Brisbane momentarily, in order to chronicle the most audacious deception yet by the current Queensland government; as they generously reward their paymasters; flagrantly disregard the people's voice; diminish the democratic process; and misuse the power vested in them.
Last Tuesday evening (9 September), not long before midnight, the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014 was passed in the Queensland Parliament. A number of late changes were made to the Bill, most of which were the result of stakeholder submissions. But not those stakeholders with the most to lose, it would seem. The changes were not debated in Parliament, and included the removal of objection rights (except for landowners directly affected) to both a mining lease and an environmental authority (EA) in so-called co-ordinated projects, which tend to be the largest in the state. In Queensland you need to apply for an environmental authority in order to engage in an environmentally relevant activity.
There were also significant changes to notification procedures for mining lease applications; the Land Court's power to remove an objection to a mining lease or environmental authority considered to be 'frivolous or vexatious' or beyond the Court's remit; and an increase in the (unelected) Co-ordinator's General's powers, restricting objections to conditions he has imposed on an environmental authority.
On the pretext of removing duplication of mining approval processes in both the Mining & Resources and Environment departments, streamlining approvals generally, and preventing communities and environmental groups from bringing 'vexatious' actions as delaying tactics, the Newman government has ignored concerns of landowners, the farming industry, communities across the state, environmental protectors, legal professionals and the general public, reducing the scope for objection to fewer instances than had been inferred; promised even. The good people of Queensland have been duped.
This legislation was passed under the Common Provisions Act, the first part of the Modernising Queensland's Resources Act (MQRA) Program, which is designed to standardise resource legislation in the state.
On 25 June this year, I attended Committee Room 2, Level 6 of the Parliament Annexe, at 2.30 pm, to hear 'members of the Department' of Natural Resources and Mines publicly briefing the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee on the proposed Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill. The committee chairman, Ian Rickuss, wore a very loud shirt (bright turquoise) as he faced a large group of suits, who included just one member of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Turquoise Man reminded me of Clive Palmer, just not as large. At the end of the proceedings, he asked me what I did, which wasn't any of his business. I wasn't wearing my environmental protester garb so I'm not sure why he noticed me. I didn't speak during the briefing, but I did make copious notes, and I appeared to have friends in the 'audience'.
Many issues were raised by the Committee. I cannot praise Jacky Trad (deputy chair and Opposition Environment spokesperson) highly enough, for pressing the Mining Department for clarification over and over. A lot of debate surrounded the right-to-object of only those 'directly affected' by the granting of a mining lease tenure. That's a tough one, isn't it? For the final wording of the amendment defining the term 'affected person', you need to go to Chapter 9 (Amendments of legislation), Division 9 (Amendments relating to mining applications), Section 420 (Replacement of s260 (Objection to application for grant of mining lease)), on page 252. In the replacement s260 (Objection by affected person), subsection (6), you will see that:
affected person means–
(a) an owner of land the subject of the proposed mining lease; or
(b) an owner of land necessary for access to land mentioned in paragraph (a); or
(c) the relevant local government.
Scrolling through this document, you will have some idea why so many Mining Department people were required in Committee that afternoon.
There was still time for submissions. I emailed mine. Dear Members of the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee, I wrote. Please do not disregard the grave concerns of a wide range of Australian people – from farmers to conservationists, legal eagles to community leaders – who believe this Bill will seriously erode the rights of those people who are entitled to a role in decision making that could impact enormously on their livelihoods, their children's hopes, their community's country, their nation's future prospects, and their planet's survival.
I didn't say that, in fact, although perhaps I should have done. I made the case against a bunch of Brisbane bureaucrats deciding issues without more expert consultation and cumulative impact modelling, and against a political party who place the vested interests of its donors first. You can read the Environmental Defenders Office's submission here.
The Committee duly recommended the Bill to Parliament, which the Environmental Defenders Office reported here. When I got back from my Outback trip, a letter from the Minister was waiting for me (below). This is the link he refers to. Read the Decision RIS (Regulatory Impact Statement) summary.
Finally, a snippet from a reader's letter to the editor of the Longreach Leader, the 'Independent Voice of Central West Queensland since 1923'. I happen to know that the author knows a lot about water resource management, and cares deeply about landowners' struggles against a mining-fixated government. The letter is in fact about another of Mr Cripps's targets for review and amendment – once again without due consultation of those most affected – the Water Act. The writer's conclusion is relevant across the board.
It's about time this government saw some integrity and collaborative visionary leadership from all sides of the political spectrum, instead of the grubby, divisive and buck-passing political games that we are currently being subjected to. The continued trampling of landholder's rights in the interests of the big resource companies has to stop – irrespective of what political colour is in power.
The LNP's huge majority and the absence of a second chamber of government in Queensland (why is that?) means that the government can set an agenda, while they can, that benefits whomever they choose. I see little evidence that the beneficiaries are primary producers or communities across this state that are drowned out by the indomitable march of mining.
This post was last edited on 19 September 2014