- Environment legislation has been passed in Queensland providing greater consultation on resource projects, early certainty on clearly unacceptable projects and ensuring environmental impact statements (EISs) remain up-to-date
- Where there is evidence of wrongdoing, the legislation has been updated to make sure responsible directors and officers can be held liable
- The Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment comes after extensive engagement process by the Department of Environment and Science with conservation groups, the agriculture sector and industry
The Palaszczuk Government has legislated reforms to strengthen Queensland’s environmental framework.
The new legislation provides greater certainty for the community and industry, including a change that would give the regulator power to end an EIS process where a proposal is clearly unacceptable and would be unlikely to gain approvals or contravenes laws, as is.
It introduces an ‘early no’ step in the EIS process so that community and project proponents know early in the piece that a project will not receive approvals as proposed, saving industry and the regulator time and money.
Under the legislation, public notification must now occur for any major amendments to environmental authorities for resource-sector projects to make sure local communities are aware and can have their say.
The Bill was drafted following consultation with conservation groups, industry, the agriculture sector and through the committee process of parliament.
During consultation with stakeholders, it was found that in some instances EISs upwards of 10 years old were being relied upon for project proposals, often with outdated information.
The EPOLA Act modernises the framework so that EISs remain current for three years, at which point proponents can apply to extend the period.
A loophole has also been closed that will ensure legislation achieves its intent of holding responsible directors and officers to account for environmental harm.
The LNP voted against the provision to hold responsible company directors and officers to account.
The amendments will give effect to the original intent by ensuring that the relevant provision recognises both when an offence occurs and when an act leading to the offence happened.
Additionally, it provides a provision for Department of Environment regulation officers to have the ability to use body-worn cameras and drones. These provisions will commence following the finalisation of additional policy work.
The new legislation also strengthens end of life provisions for resource projects, with measures to assist the transition to new Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plans as well as extending timeframes for estimated rehabilitated cost decisions.
Quotes attributable to Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon:
“Community expectations, technology and industry are evolving – and it’s vital that our laws remain modern and reflect the changes we’re seeing.
“This is about making sure that we have certainty for landowners and industry, while also making sure that we continue to protect our environment and that independent regulator can be effective in its role.
“It’s also important that executive officers who do the wrong thing can be held accountable for their acts or omissions, and these changes reflect the original intent and will prevent directors avoiding potential liability by resigning from their role.
“We’ve listened to what stakeholders have told us, and we’ll also see support through short-term environmental authorities for non-resource activities to trial innovations as well as measures to assist Queensland industry and individuals to meet their environmental requirements in an emergency situation.