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Reforms flagged in Queensland’s plan for a sustainable resources sector

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Written by by Matthew Austin, Scott Singleton, Anna Vella and Jonathan Chia. 

The Queensland Government recently released for consultation its draft Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan (QRIDP). The QRIDP outlines the Government’s 30-year vision to transform Queensland’s resources industry.

It highlights a number of policy outcomes aimed at driving a resilient, responsible and sustainable resources industry sector by 2050. It also identifies a number of legislative reforms that may take further shape in the short term to assist with achieving the outcomes and vision of the QRIDP. This transformation is critical as the world looks towards decarbonising and increasing its reliance on renewable energy supplies and technology.

Key focus areas and actions

The QRIDP identifies the following six key focus areas which the Queensland Government and the resources industry should collaboratively focus on:
  • Growing and diversifying the resources industry;
  • Strengthening environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials and environmental protection;
  • Fostering coexistence and sustainable communities;
  • Fostering strong and genuine First Nations partnerships;
  • Building a safe and resilient future workforce; and
  • Improving regulatory efficiency.

Each focus area contains a number of proposed actions and strategies including developing, implementing and updating various initiatives, programs and strategies relating to achieving the outcomes outlined under each key focus area. Various actions signal future legislative reform which we consider further below. 

Growing and diversifying the resources industry

For many years, Queensland’s resources sector has been underpinned by its coal, gas and metalliferous resources. This has resulted in Queensland developing a competitive advantage in the mining, processing and supplying of resources such as coal, gas and copper. To grow and diversify the resources industry, the QRIDP aims to leverage Queensland’s competitive advantage to develop and supply New Economy Minerals (NEM) to the world, such that by 2050, the industry will have supported global industries in its decarbonising efforts.
In doing so, the QRIDP recognises the importance premium commodities will continue to play in the development of low emission technologies such as electric vehicles and solar panels. It also acknowledges the need for the resources industry to decarbonise and explore other clean energy sources, such as hydrogen, to align with global trends.
Notable proposed actions to achieve this outcome include: 
  • Reviewing the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety Act) 2004 (Qld) to provide an efficient and transparent regulatory framework for hydrogen and other clean energy resources such as biomethane, hydrogen blends and other renewable methane gas blends. These resources are deemed critical to Queensland and the world’s transition to net zero emissions by 2050;
  • Investigating carbon capture, use and storage and include areas for carbon storage feasibility exploration under the Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009 (Qld) in future rounds of the Queensland Exploration Program; and
  • Investigating the feasibility and financial sustainability of common user infrastructure such as roads, rail, ports and electricity, in partnership with the resource industry, in the hope it will stimulate investment and assist major resource developments to proceed. 

Strengthening ESG credentials and environmental protection 

Currently, Queensland has a robust regulatory framework which provides resource industry operators a strong platform for demonstrating their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials. However, ESG factors are becoming increasingly influential for investors and customers when making decisions as to whether to invest in a company or to purchase products. As such, the QRIDP seeks to ensure the resources industry is prepared and ready to seize new opportunities that increasingly ESG conscious investors, customers and global jurisdictions will offer. It also aims to progressively decarbonise existing operations to align with the Government’s commitments to a zero-net emissions future and protect the environment.
Notable proposed actions to ensure this outcome is achieved include:
  • Implementing an operation policy which requires applicants of new and existing resource activity environmental authorities (EA) to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions;
  • Requiring EA holders to implement greenhouse abatement plans;
  • Establishing a government-industry ESG working group to determine appropriate government action for supporting ESG in the resources industry; and
  • Investigating the feasibility of establishing an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Queensland’s environment. This is currently underway with the Government having commenced public consultation on the establishment of an EPA and is due to close in February 2022. 

Fostering coexistence and sustainable communities

The Queensland resources industry has supported and helped to grow Queensland’s regional communities for many years. To ensure this continues, the QRIDP emphasises the need for the industry to forge and maintain long-standing and mutually beneficial working relationships with landholders, communities, and other industries in the areas where they operate. It is also expected that the projects undertaken by the resources industry leave regional communities better off after resource projects are completed.
Key actions proposed to achieve these outcomes include: 
  • Implementing the findings of the Queensland Government review of the Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Act 2017 (Qld);
  • Consulting with stakeholders and the public about a draft set of principles for strong landholder relationships which outlines behaviour expectations for resources companies around coexistence issues; and
  • Reviewing land access institutions to ensure they are well aligned, contemporary and efficient, with particular focus on the scope and function of the Land Access Ombudsman and GasFields Commission Queensland. This includes whether these entities could perform their functions under a single entity. 

Fostering strong and genuine First Nations partnerships

The QRIDP highlights the need for the resources industry to continue engaging with and further developing relationships with First Nations people. This is grounded in the understanding that First Nations people have continuing rights and responsibilities to safeguard the sustainable management of land and waters for future generations. It is also underpinned by the value First Nations people can bring to decision-making processes as a result of their strong and enduring knowledge of and connection to Country.
One of the actions proposed to achieve this outcome is to finalise the review of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) and Torres Strait Island Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld). The purpose of the review is to ensure these Acts continue to protect and conserve the cultural heritage of Queensland’s First Nations people, while facilitating business and development activities. 

Improving regulatory efficiency

Current processes for objecting to and reviewing administrative decisions, including decisions regarding mining leases, across the Resource Acts1 can cause delays and create inequities for stakeholders. This is not conducive to investments as it may hinder the rapid transformation that is needed to create a more sustainable resources industry which contributes to tackling climate change. The QRIDP proposes to address these complex issues by:
  • Referring the objections processes for mining leases under the Mineral Resources Act 1989, including the Land Court’s role in this process and whether a consistent process should be applied to petroleum leases, for review to the Queensland Law Reform Commission;
  • Reviewing the associated review processes with EA under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld); and
  • Investigating opportunities to streamline broader review mechanisms for other decisions across the Resources Acts to achieve greater transparency, consistency and equity for stakeholders. 

Other areas of proposed regulatory reform and process improvements include: 

  • Removing mining claims from the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) which would immediately implement a moratorium on accepting new mining claim applications while consultation on such proposal occurs through the QRIDP;
  • Removing the prohibition on using steel casing in horizontal coal seam gas wells under the Petroleum and Gas (Safety) Regulation 2018 (Qld) and Coal Mining Safety and Regulation 2017 (Qld) where there is no overlapping tenure, and consult with the industry on any additional change; and
  • Developing a data resources development plan to ensure the quality and value of datasets on land, property, geospatial and geoscience. 

Key takeaways and next steps

The publication of the draft QRIDP reflects the Government’s commitment to ensuring Queensland’s resources industry is not left in the dust as the world transitions towards a lower carbon economy and as investors become more ESG-conscious. It highlights the Government’s desire to ensure Queensland is placed in a position where it can seize the opportunities relating to the increased demand for New Economy Minerals, while taking steps to shore up existing resources productions of coal and gas by lowering its emissions intensity through innovative technologies such as carbon capture use and storage.

Currently, consultation on the draft QRIDP is underway as the Government seeks to obtain feedback from targeted stakeholders. Should you wish to provide your feedback on the QRIDP, this will need to be submitted by 11 February 2022. The final plan is anticipated to be released in mid-2022.

KWM will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the draft QRIDP over the coming year.

References

1 Resource Acts include the Mineral Resources Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, Petroleum Act 1923, Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014, Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009 and Geothermal Act 2010.

 

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