Queensland moves to reduce 'Green Tape'

Articles Written by David Colenso (Partner)

The Queensland Government has released a discussion paper announcing its intention to reduce 'Green Tape' for business and government by providing a streamlined regulatory process. The paper, released on 23 May 2011 is the precursor to legislative reforms designed to clarify, but simplify processes for obtaining and amending environmental approvals under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act). 

The Government has recognised that a complex regulatory system not only impacts industry but unnecessarily complex regulatory procedures can undermine industry will to comply with environmental standards.

The discussion paper comprises the second phase of the 'Green Tape' reduction project following consultation with industry bodies. The discussion paper proposes reforms that will apply to the State's mining and petroleum industries and any other industry sectors that trigger environmental approval thresholds.

The key aim of the Green Tape reduction project is to reduce costs to industry and government of environmental regulation while upholding environmental standards for the community.

For mining, resource and petroleum companies, the key points from the discussion paper are:

  • Overall, the Environmental Authority (EA) application process will be simplified with the aim of reducing duplication (especially where documentation has already been supplied as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment process). This will remove the requirement for an Environmental Management Plan for mining EA's and scaling down the requirements for Plans of Operations for smaller mining projects.
  • EA's will now attach to their relevant resource tenement (e.g. mining lease) removing the need for the separate and time consuming EA transfer application process.
  • EA's will be able to be issued to companies for their activities over multiple sites. This will allow companies to choose whether to operate under a single EA inclusive of activities both on and off a mining or petroleum tenement.

For all industry sectors which trigger thresholds, the changes will mean:

  • The focus will be on 'Operator Licences' which will attach to operations rather than attaching to the land, so operational conditions will move out of the land/use based development approvals.
  • An Operator Licence will be able to be issued for activities over multiple sites.
  • The range of circumstances in which operating conditions can be amended without triggering the requirement for a new land use development approval will be widened and a new concept of 'Proportional Licensing' will be introduced. This is similar to the tiered assessment levels that apply to mining projects on different scales and will now apply for all Environmentally Relevant Activities (ERA).
    Some low impact ERA's will simply be required to comply with a set of statutory rules instead of having to obtain a development approval. Other ERA's will be approved either under a standard approval, site specific assessment or an environmental impact statement.
  • Another new proposal is the addition of a new enforcement mechanism to the EP Act. The regulator will be able to issue 'show cause notices' where it has concerns regarding compliance in relation to activities conducted under the new statutory rules.

The Government also proposes to improve guidance as to materials required to be submitted with an application, prioritise information required in the application process so that information of a non controversial technical nature may be provided at later stages and to introduce a system of third party certification to replace full departmental review in certain circumstances.

The draft legislation to support the proposals in the discussion paper has not yet been released. The detail of the proposed changes is set out in the discussion paper 'Green Tape Reduction - Reforming Licensing under the Environmental Protection Act 1994'.

The final date for submissions on the proposed changes is 1 July 2011.

The Queensland Government also released on 31 May 2011 an announcement of its Strategic Cropping Land Policy. The policy framework is aimed at identifying Queensland's best cropping land and excluding development which may impact on its production capacity. It will impact on developments such as underground coal gasification, mining and urbanisation which will be assessed under the new framework. We will have a summary and commentary on that paper available for clients shortly.

Important Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is comment of a general nature only and is not and nor is it intended to be advice on any specific professional matter. In that the effectiveness or accuracy of any professional advice depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, neither the firm nor any individual author accepts any responsibility whatsoever for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of any articles. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this publication, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Australia-wide except in Tasmania).

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