THE rights of miners are set to be significantly curtailed under new laws to be tabled in Queensland Parliament this week.
Under the Regional Planning Interest Bill miners will be stripped of the power to take landholders to the Land Court if an agreement cannot be reached within 40 days. In addition, the automatic right to start a project after 40 days will also be removed.
The 40 day rule has long been used by mining companies as a way to strong arm landholders in priority agricultural areas who are often intimidated by the threat of costly legal proceedings and the time required to manage a court case.
Under the new laws mining companies will need to demonstrate they have negotiated in good faith with landholders. There will be no time limit on the period of negotiations. Miners who cannot reach agreement will now need to apply to the Department of State Development Infrastructure and Planning to seek approval for their project.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said in a briefing to Queensland Country Life last Monday that the new laws would put landholders in a much stronger position and "provide balance" between the parties.
"This is a provision that landholders have never had before," he said.
"It removes the psychological lever that mining companies have held over landholders. I regularly remind resource companies that the Newman government has never condoned a mining sector free-for-all across our most important farming country, or areas of significant environmental value.
"I will not allow extremist claims from mining companies to derail a process that began in opposition as I watched landholder rights slowly and deliberately eroded by Labor."
While the assessment criteria which will show how farmers and miners can coexist are still to be sighted, the criteria and the draft Regional Planning Interest Bill have been the subject of negotiations between the Queensland Government, AgForce and the Queensland Farmers Federation.
Mr Seeney said any new resource development seeking to operate in priority agricultural areas (PAAs), priority living areas, strategic environmental areas and strategic cropping areas will need to meet assessment criteria ensuring no material loss of land, no threat to continued agricultural use and no material impact on irrigation aquifers or overland flow. Outside PAAs, existing strategic cropping land protections will remain.
AgForce policy director Dr Dale Miller said there continued to be concerns over how high quality agricultural land and water would be protected.
"The legislation must place emphasis on landholder agreements and the consultation process to ensure the land and water resource is protected and there is ongoing land use," Dr Miller said.
"Coexistence suggests equal standing and equal say and all affected landholders views need to be taken into consideration as must accumulated impacts at a regional level.
QFF chief executive officer Dan Galligan said the State Government had recognised the importance of the bill.
He said at a recent committee hearing on the Regional Planning Interests Bill Mr Seeney had clarified several points that were high on QFF's agenda, including that regulation to underpin the Bill will be tabled when it is debated in the Parliament.
"In addition, the government intends to take a limited role only in delving into landholder and resource company agreements by providing an exemption under the bill when an agreement is made, and only getting involved when agreement cannot be reached.
"In so doing the Deputy Premier was very clear: landholders must be consulted on how developments take place on their property and on this QFF wholeheartedly agrees," Mr Galligan said.
Mr Galligan said QFF was now waiting for further detail to explain how farmers' rights are maintained under these laws.
"Central to that will be the recognition that within identified Priority Agricultural Areas (PAA), landholders must be allowed a say how coexistence would occur," Mr Galligan said.
"It is this implementation step that has been missing so far and this is the solution that agricultural industry bodies have provided in their suggested coexistence framework.
"Now we need to see the government pick up that framework and make it a reality.
The new laws have met a backlash from the mining industry which has been frantically attempting to block the power shift.
"The new laws were only ever going to shift power from miners to landholders to provide balance," Mr Seeney said.
"Miners were always going to be angry and upset with these changes."