30 March 2023
The Queensland Government has passed legislation to strengthen the state’s environmental framework. The Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment has been drafted after extensive consultation with conservation groups, industry, and the agriculture sector. The new legislation includes measures to improve consultation on resource projects, provide early certainty on unacceptable projects, and ensure that environmental impact statements (EISs) remain current.
Improvements to EIS process
One of the major changes introduced by the new legislation is the introduction of an ‘early no’ step in the EIS process. This means that if a proposal is clearly unacceptable or would contravene laws, the regulator has the power to end the EIS process, saving industry and the regulator time and money. The new legislation also ensures public notification for any major amendments to environmental authorities for resource-sector projects, allowing local communities to have their say.
The EPOLA Act modernises the framework so that EISs remain current for three years. After that, proponents can apply to extend the period. This update aims to avoid outdated information being relied upon for project proposals.
Additionally, the legislation has been updated to make sure responsible directors and officers can be held liable where there is evidence of wrongdoing. This aims to ensure that responsible company directors and officers are accountable for environmental harm.
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.
Strengthened end-of-life provisions for resource projects
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.
Wildlife Queensland spokesperson Des Boyland said the Society welcomes the strengthening of Queensland’s environmental laws and commends the Palaszczuk Government on this action.
“This is certainly a step in the right direction but funds and staff are needed to ensure compliance programs and audits are in place to ensure the benefits are delivered,” stated Boyland.
“This action combined with significant funding for national parks and threatened species conservation in this year’s budget heralds a welcome change in direction and demonstrates that the Palaszczuk Government does care for the environment and its wildlife. There is still much work to be done but it is a positive start.”
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said community expectations, technology and industry are evolving — and it’s vital that laws remain modern and reflect changes. The changes are aimed at providing certainty for landowners and industry while protecting the environment and ensuring that the independent regulator can be effective in its role. The legislation also ensures that executive officers who do the wrong thing can be held accountable for their acts or omissions.
In addition to these measures, short-term environmental authorities will be provided for non-resource activities to trial innovations, and measures will be introduced to assist Queensland industry and individuals to meet their environmental requirements in an emergency situation.