The Queensland Government has recently implemented a Land Access Code in an attempt to balance the interests of the Agricultural and Resources sectors in relation to land access for resource exploration and development, and rectify the ongoing disputes between resource companies and landholders. Andrew Price, Partner, discusses the new regime governing land access and compensation arrangements in Queensland and the implications for anyone engaged in exploration activities in Queensland.

Introduction

The Queensland Government Land Access Code (LAC) recognises the necessity of maintaining good relationships between resource companies and land owners, aiming to improve transparency, equity and co-operation across all sectors involved creating a more level ground for all. Resource companies should familiarise themselves with the new regime and take steps to implement it to comply with the LAC procedures set out below, land management and stakeholder strategies.

Key features of the new Queensland Land Access Code

The statute implementing the LAC intends to provide a single code for all resources titles including petroleum, minerals and a geothermal sources.  

The LAC is intended to provide best practice guidelines for communication and resolution of disputes between holders of resources titles and occupiers of privately owned land.  

The LAC applies as the basic terms of access and imposes certain minimum and mandatory conditions concerning the conduct of activities on private land.  

How the Land Access Code works

An authorised activity carried out under a relevant planning legislation will be subject to different requirements depending on whether the activity is relevantly a “preliminary activity” or an “advanced activity.”  

Preliminary Exploration is essentially an activity where there is no or only minor impact on landholders, for example, the taking of non-invasive surveys or minor soil or water sampling; and

Advanced Exploration, which are activities other than a Preliminary Activity, includes seismic surveys, drilling, making new roads or tracks, clearing vegetation or conducting a camp.

The resources titleholder must obtain and provide to the landholder a copy of the development consent obtained for the resources activity under the relevant planning legislation. In this regard there are varying periods for compliance and necessary steps to be taken for each form of access.  

Provided the necessary statutory steps are taken and the titleholders are in compliance, access is guaranteed.

Protection of strategic cropping land

Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) is defined as land available and suitable for current and future cropping taking into account existing limits on production. The Queensland Government has recognised that the finite resources of SCL must be conserved and managed for the longer term. As a general aim planning and approval powers are now focused at protecting such land from those developments that would lead to its permanent alienation or diminished productivity.

The overall intent of the legislation is firstly to identify and protect SCL which objective has recently been criticised by the Queensland Resources Council.

All petroleum exploration development and production activities will now clearly constitute “development” requiring development approvals granted under QLD planning legalisation prior to commencement.  

There will be new planning legislation which will recognise and identify locations of existing SCL. The intention of the new legislation is to ensure that locations of SCL are mapped and publicly identified. This is to assist applicants to identify where potential conflicts will occur.

Planning and Consent authorities will be required with applications for development for SCL.  

Where there is an apparent conflict between competing activities the applicant for development will bear the onus of showing that satisfactory measures have been taken to avoid either diminished productivity or permanent alienation of SCL to the satisfaction of the planning consent authority.

Conclusion

The LAC is only in it’s preliminary implementation stages. As such, it is yet to be seen whether or not these measures are effective in easing conflicts surrounding land use and access between resources companies and holders of prime agricultural land. It is apparent that the Queensland Government is taking the initial step towards attempting to balance the interests of these parties setting a benchmark for other states.