March 29, 2016
by Anne Miller
The State Government’s review of the Gasfields Commission – which opened for public consultation last week – will recommend whether or not the work of the body should be extended to coal and minerals as well as petroleum and gas.
If this extension is granted, or if an ombudsman’s role is created as another proposal suggests, it could provide another line of attack for South Burnett residents opposed to Moreton Resources’ planned coal mine near Kingaroy.
The Gasfields Commission was set up as a statutory body by the Newman Government to manage and improve “the sustainable co-existence of landholders, regional communities and the onshore gas industry in Queensland”.
It was established after ongoing disputes about land access between rural producers and the coal seam gas industry, and began operating in July 2013.
The Commission is headed by Kinbombi grazier John Cotter, a former president of AgForce.
The six commissioners include former Western Downs mayor Ray Brown and former Taroom mayor Don Stiller, father of Shadow Agriculture Minister Deb Frecklington; as well as Rick Wilkinson, chief technical officer for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).
Other commissioners are Dalby farmer Ian Hayllor, soil scientist Prof Steven Raine, and Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) chairman Shane Charles.
The State Government announced in December that it was “timely” to conduct a review of the Commission’s work as it had now been operating for three years.
Last week, barrister and former Deputy Director-General of the Department of Lands Bob Scott was appointed to head the review.
Written submissions from the public opened on March 22.
Consultation with “targeted stakeholders” will begin in April. These include: Rural landholders, the Gasfields Commission Queensland, Queensland Mental Health Commission, APPEA, the Queensland Resources Council, the Association of Mining & Exploration Companies, AgForce, Queensland Farmers Federation, Local Government Association of Queensland, Lock the Gate Alliance Limited, Queensland South Native Title Services, Basin Sustainability Alliance, Property Rights Australia, Save Our Darling Downs, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Queensland Health, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Centre for Coal Seam Gas (University of Queensland).
An online survey is also available for members of the public.
Based on the interviews with key stakeholders and available information, the report will make recommendations to the Director-General, Department of State Development, in relation to:
- The current effectiveness of the Gasfields Commission and options to improve the functions related to public health, community engagement by the Commission and the management of disputes between resource companies and landholders if required.
- Whether there can be harmonisation between the CSG Compliance Unit and the Gasfields Commission to provide efficiencies and improved dispute management processes
- Whether the community and industry would benefit from the role of the Gasfields Commission being expanded to all resources (coal and minerals as well as petroleum and gas)
- Whether existing regulatory functions in the Gasfields Commission Act 2013 work effectively in avoiding and resolving conflict between resource companies and landholders, or whether amendments to the Act are required
- Whether an independent Resources Ombudsman (or other responses) is required, with consideration given to practices in other jurisdictions
- If a Resources Ombudsman model is supported, to outline broadly what powers and functions the ombudsman should have in relation to the management of disputes and other matters
- Opportunities to improve access by, or the information available to, landholders in relation to land access and negotiation with resource companies
- Opportunities to improve access by (or the information available to, and processes in place for) landholders in relation to complaints against resource companies
- Opportunities and mechanisms to improve access by (or the information and legal information available to) landholders in relation to public health and social services in the context of resources activities.
- Whether there are options to improve the effectiveness of procedures to respond to ‘high risk’ cases where there are disputes between landholders and resource companies.
Public submissions close at 5:00pm on April 22.
The report and recommendations to the Minister are expected by mid-2016.