The Regional Planning Interests Bill 2013 (Qld) (Bill) was introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 20 November 2013. 

The Bill prescribes a new approvals process for ‘resource activities’ that are carried out in ‘areas of regional interest’.A resource activity is an activity for which an authority under the minerals, petroleum, geothermal or greenhouse gas legislation is required. In these circumstances, the person must make a ‘regional interests assessment application’ and be granted a ‘regional interests authority’ in order to carry out the activity lawfully.

There are four areas of regional interest: a priority agricultural area, a priority living area, a strategic cropping area and a strategic environmental area. These areas are shown on maps in regional plans or prescribed under regulations.

Here, HopgoodGanim takes a first look at the Bill and sets out six things you need to know. 

Six things you need to know

  1. Existing petroleum operations in the Surat Basin

Existing petroleum operators in the Surat Basin need to be aware that they may not be covered by the exemption for pre-existing resource activities to the Bill.  The exemption applies to operations within the ‘Surat Cumulative Management Area’ and a ‘priority agricultural area’ as shown in the Central Queensland or Darling Downs regional plan.

For those tenure holders, as soon as the associated Act comes into force, they may be carrying out a resource activity in an area of regional interest without a regional interests authority.  This is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of approximately $3.4 million for a corporation or five years’ imprisonment. Currently, there are no transitional provisions or regulations in place which would allow the tenure holder to apply in the ordinary course for a regional interests authority to ensure their activities continue to be carried out in a lawful manner.

  1. Appeals

The Bill provides a process for appeals from the Chief Executive’s decision on a regional interests assessment application. 

Proponents should be aware that a landowner has standing to appeal such a decision as an ‘affected land owner’ even where they do not own land within the actual area of the proposed resource authority or the area of regional interest. This is because an affected land owner is defined as a person who owns land that may be adversely affected by the activity because of their proximity to the land where the activities will be carried out and the impact the activity may have on an area of regional interest.

The Planning and Environment Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal. This means that a proponent may have concurrent proceedings relating to the same project running in this court and the Land Court, which has jurisdiction to hear objections to the grant of a mining lease and an environmental authority. 

  1. Repeal of Strategic Cropping Land Act

The Bill provides for the repeal of the Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 (Qld) (SCL Act). However, the policy intent behind the SCL Act is continued in part by including a strategic cropping area as an area of regional interest. The existing trigger maps have also been kept to show areas of strategic cropping land (SCL) or potential SCL. 

The affect of the Bill on proponents with projects that overlap SCL who are currently moving through the approval process will depend on the status of the proponent’s SCL protection decision application at the time the Bill commences.  If the SCL protection decision:

  • has been made, that protection decision will be transitioned and be deemed to be a regional interest authority; or 
  • has not been made, the protection decision application will be an assessment application under the Bill.  However it is unclear, at this stage, how that transition to an assessment application will practically operate. 
  1. Uncertainty about the regulations

The way this legislation will operate in practice and its full impact on proposed projects is currently unclear. This is because there are several matters to be prescribed by regulations which are not published yet. For example:

  • the type of regional interests assessment application that will need to be publicly notified;
  • the notice period for those applications requiring public notification; and
  • the criteria that will be used by the Chief Executive to assess a regional interests assessment application and grant a regional interests authority.
  1. Triplication of processes

On top of the current approvals processes required to obtain a resource authority and environmental authority for a project, the Bill will add an additional layer of approvals for some projects with the following repeated stages:

  • making the application, which must be accompanied by a specific report;
  • a public notification period and opportunity for submissions; and
  • an appeal from the decision on the application.
  1. The regional interests authority prevails in the event of inconsistency

In the event of inconsistency between the conditions of a regional interests authority and a condition of a resource authority or environmental authority, the condition of the regional interests authority will prevail.  This means that it is very important for industry to understand the policies and guidelines that will inform the regional plans, which will in turn determine the conditions of the regional interests authority. 

 

Next steps

HopgoodGanim is happy to provide you with further legal advice as to the Bill’s impact on your activities if required. 

The Bill has been referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee for consideration which must provide its report by 17 March 2014.

The Committee has invited written submissions on the Bill. Submissions close at 5:00 pm on Friday, 17 January 2014.