On 4 February 2020, the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Dr Anthony Lynham, introduced the Mineral and Energy Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. The Bill was referred to the State Development, Natural Resources and Agricultural Industry Development Committee for consideration and report by Friday, 27 March 2020. The primary objectives of the Bill relate to three priorities of the Queensland Government: safety and health, financial assurance and regulatory efficiency.
The Queensland Government intends to strengthen the safety culture in the resources sector by introducing industrial manslaughter offences in the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999, the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999, the Explosives Act 1999 and the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004. The industrial manslaughter offences stipulate that persons appointed to critical safety statutory roles for coalmining must be an employee of the mine operator. The amendment to the Explosives Act 1999 states that regulations must be made about conditions and other requirements that apply to a security clearance for a person with access to explosives.
The Bill strives to implement legislative changes that support mine rehabilitation and financial assurance reforms, to mitigate the risk to the state and improve rehabilitation outcomes for Queensland. The amendments follow on from the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Act 2018, and include the introduction of provisions to increase the state’s oversight of a resource authority holder when there is a change in ownership. The amendments also include the introduction of disqualification criteria, to be used in the state’s assessment of tenure applications for a resource authority.
The Bill aims to improve the administration and effectiveness of the regulatory framework applying to resources projects, by introducing a dispute resolution framework to resolve commercial disputes, and provisions to consolidate conference provisions throughout the resources acts into one framework under the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014. The Bill will also implement provisions that allow the amalgamation of tenures when they are transitioned from the Petroleum Act 1923 to the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004. The Bill also amends other acts and regulations within the Natural Resources, Mines and Energy portfolio, including removal of the time limit on the existing ban on certain fees and charges for customers on standard retail electricity contracts.
In response to the proposed industrial manslaughter laws, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) has raised concerns that the laws will decrease the safety culture in the mining industry. Ian Macfarlane, QRC Chief Executive, said that safety remains the sector’s top priority, but changes were needed to ensure the Bill met its purpose.
“The government’s stated intent to amend work health and safety legislation by adding industrial manslaughter offences was to enable executive officers to be charged in the event of criminally negligent behaviour which had led to the fatality of a worker. Rather than extending the prospect of a fine or jail time to those decision-makers beyond the mine site, the industry expects this Bill to load a heavier burden on site-based SSEs [senior site executives] and the positions reporting to them, making their fundamental role untenable. QRC believes that without these changes the Bill also runs the risk of diminishing safety by undermining the culture necessary to prioritise safety,” Macfarlane said.
As part of its response, senior officials from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU Mining & Energy) appeared before a Queensland Parliamentary Committee to argue that mining executives should not be given an exemption from industrial manslaughter laws. “No-one should be above the law. The whole point of industrial manslaughter laws is they ensure that people take responsibility for their safety obligations,” said CFMEU Mining & Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth. “Parliamentarians must not give mining bosses a free pass on industrial manslaughter.”
CFMEU Mining & Energy officials cast doubt on claims made by industry representatives, that stronger workplace laws would somehow undermine safety in the mining sector. Officials also argued that mining laws should ensure that all key safety positions within mines were filled by workers employed by mine operators, as opposed to labour hire or contractors. “The extension of industrial manslaughter laws was about ensuring justice and protecting the lives of workers,” Smyth said. “There have been eight lives lost in the past 18 months in Queensland coalmines and quarries. This is a genuine safety crisis in our mining sector. Stronger laws are needed to make operators take their safety obligations seriously.”
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