DALBY-based solicitor Peter Shannon believes the state government must acknowledge its “conflict of interest” in the mining-agriculture debate and fund independent landholder lawyers to ensure the interests of the agriculture sector are provided fair consideration in the drafting of legislation.
Mr Shannon told Queensland Country Life this week’s state government announcement to draft further amendments to the Petroleum and Gas Act to clarify the definition of ‘occupier’ following strong landholder concerns was symptomatic of the government lobbying imbalances between mining and agriculture.
He said the inability of landholder representative bodies to fund ongoing legal advice further fuelled distrust of the resource sector among farmers and weakened the arguments for coexistence.
State Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps has announced the state government will draft further amendments to clarify the parties eligible for compensation as a result of CSG and resource activity following concerns, first raised by Mr Shannon last month, that changes to the definition of ‘occupier’ brought to parliament in August would result in some landholders unable to claim compensation for the impacts of coal seam gas and other petroleum development.
After seeking independent legal advice last month, Mr Cripps acknowledge this week the definition needed to ensure a range of unique circumstances in agriculture where family businesses operated under complicated ownership structures such as trusts and partnerships are considered in legislation.
He said the state government would “move swiftly” to draft amendments to clarify the parties eligible for compensation in an effort to remove any doubt arising from differing legal interpretations of the act.
These amendments will be introduced to parliament before the end of the year.
However, Mr Shannon told Queensland Country Life while he awaits further details of the government amendments, issues surrounding notification and compensation for resource sector activity should be addressed separately in the legislation.
He said changes to the definition of “occupier” were originally made to address resource industry concerns over who must be notified of CSG activity on private property.
“There are two issues under the act which have always been of relevance to the definition of occupiers – who is to get notice of the activities and who is to get compensation,” he said.
“The resource industry has lobbied about who they have to notify and it seems that has been swept up in the changes of who is entitled to compensation. But those two issues should be dealt with separately.”
“If industry is concerned about who they have to notify, it should be dealt with by drafting legislation about who they have to notify, not who is entitled to compensation. The issue for compensation should simply be reverted back to the previous definition of occupier.”
“The original input in the drafting was all under the misconception that all they were tinkering with was something to do with who they had to notify. But it had an extremely important side effect about who was eligible for compensation that was far worse than the issue they were intending to address which coincidentally, happened to benefit industry. The sceptical among us would say this happens quite a bit. Government probably does not realise because it just does not have the kind of input it needs from agriculture.”
With the state government set to earn billions of dollars in royalties from the rollout of vast coal seam gas projects, Mr Shannon said it was “only fair and equitable” the state government acknowledged its “conflict of interest” in the debate and established a fund to aid agriculture in retaining long term legal advice about proposed legislation.
“This is a community issue to deal with the extraction of a community resource, and personally I would like to see more funding for the legal aide service or funding for landholder peak bodies and other landholder action groups,” he said.
“What happens at the moment is industry influences the legal framework while agriculture does not have the power to have a counter balancing legal argument and the legislation comes through lob sided and we get into a mess every single time.”
“Industry is struggling with its social license and part of the problem is these sort of legal issues keep arising. It perpetuates the perception that all industry wants to do is take advantage of their commercial clout.”
“That sort of relationship is never going to see this industry off the ground in the bush because they are coming into an area where neighbour is everything.”
“The resource industry gives the impression it expects the landholder to be neighbourly but it can take every commercial advantage it can. The ledger needs to be a little more balanced.”
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