Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Grant of Coal and Petroleum Prospecting Titles) Bill 2015

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [12.06 p.m.]: The speech of the member for Camden was certainly entertaining. It is with pleasure that I participate in debate on the mining and petroleum cognate bills—the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Grant of Coal and Petroleum Prospecting Titles) Bill 2015, the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015, the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Land Access Arbitration) Bill 2015, the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum) Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015 and the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Enforcement of Gas and Other Petroleum Legislation) Bill 2015.

The New South Wales Opposition does not oppose the cognate bills. This area of industry is extremely important to New South Wales and the mining and petroleum industries are extremely important industries to me. Throughout the nineties I was the industry coordinator of the Australian Workers Union for the mining industry in New South Wales that included places like Cobar, which had the metalliferous mines of Pasminco, the Hunter Valley with its coal, Woodlawn and other places throughout New South Wales. The mining industry provides jobs not only for local people but also for fly-in fly-out workers and creates a significant boost for the New South Wales economy. Mining and petroleum industries are important and must be safeguarded. When dealing with legislation relating to those industries, it is equally important to safeguard the environment and workers' rights and safety.

The Baird Government has proposed wideranging changes to areas of legislation that we do not think about or speak about regularly. Obviously, exploration for coal seam gas has been spoken about quite a lot by the current Government and previous governments, but it is not often that we hear about incremental reform of mining and petroleum industry legislation. This is a very important and often sensitive area of New South Wales law. The mining and petroleum industry reforms affect interests that are worth billions of dollars, the quality of the environment as well as the wellbeing of millions of people in New South Wales. The Opposition's agenda is that the rights and safety of workers as well as the protection of the environment should be regarded as paramount when reviewing any proposed reforms or legislation introduced by the New South Wales Government.

At the outset I will discuss two of the bills introduced by the Government that address the rights and safety of workers and the protection of the environment. The Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum) Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015 seeks to address the fact that mining and petroleum exploration and extraction are incredibly dangerous professions. Despite advances in workplace health and safety regulations, active trade union involvement in the workforce and new technologies, the risk of death and serious injury in those industries remains ever-present for the workers who carry out that work daily.

Currently, the occupational health and safety of workers involved in petroleum exploration and production is regulated by the Onshore Petroleum Exploration and Production Safety Requirements, which were published in 1992, and specific provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Mine and petroleum workers often have to confront serious concerns about workplace conditions due to the actions of Coalition governments. In 2013 the O'Farrell Government introduced reforms to the Work Health and Safety Act that excluded mine and petroleum workers. Four years after the initial reforms the Baird Government has realised the mistake and now supports these changes to the legislation.

Currently, responsibility for safety rests with titleholders. The Opposition welcomes the expansion of safety duties to site operators, contractors, occupiers and controllers of work premises. That is an issue that goes well beyond politics. Despite the Coalition cringing at the mere mention of trade unions in the workplace, worker safety is important and should not be treated as a political football. It is important that future reforms to work practices in the mining and petroleum industries place safety as paramount. Reforms must be made in consultation with trade unions and I commend the work of the Australian Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Mining and Energy Division and other trade unions for their active work in fighting to make the mining and petroleum industries safer.

Protection of the environment is extremely important to the people of New South Wales and the New South Wales Opposition. The New South Wales Opposition continues to call for greater environmental protection. During the terms of the Carr Government an unprecedented amount of land was designated for national parks. In 2009 New South Wales adopted legislation that would reduce the CO2 output of the energy sector, which just last week was extended to the gas industry. I am pleased that the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Enforcement of Gas and Other Petroleum Legislation) Bill will confirm the Environment Protection Agency [EPA] as the lead environmental regulator in the gas and petroleum sector. Having a single, independent regulator will enable the efficient review of the practices that exploit subsurface resources. It is important that the EPA be adequately resourced so it will be effective in its role of investigating breaches of environmental law and regulation by mining and petroleum companies.

The Opposition welcomes the statutory delegation of powers to the EPA. No longer will the EPA have to rely on the delegation of responsibility to be passed from other agencies. The EPA will have the power and responsibility to enforce the law and regulations within its jurisdiction. The role of the EPA must not be weakened by any future legislation or decreased funding and resources—a matter of serious concern to Opposition. The Baird and O'Farrell governments imposed significant cuts on various government departments as well as the workforce. The EPA must be supported to do its job properly. Its job is to hold large companies and others to account when they breach environmental laws and regulations. The Opposition will hold the Baird Government to account to make sure there is no reduction in the power and resources of the EPA.

I refer now to how the legislation before us addresses the granting of coal and petroleum prospecting titles. Mining licences seem nondescript, although this is far from the truth. Mining and exploration licences often determine the future of large parcels of land, often the size of modern cities. The granting of a licence may lead to a mining company making billions of dollars in profits and, in turn, this has an effect on the New South Wales economy. Therefore it is essential that a fair and competitive process be followed in the granting of licences. The Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Grant of Coal and Petroleum Prospecting Titles) Bill 2015 offers a new system. The New South Wales Government has offered a reform whereby applications for mining licences are only available in the following circumstances: after a competitive selection process; to an existing licence holder in the same area and in relation to the same mineral; and, to an existing licence holder over land in relation to petroleum matters.

Under amendments in this bill the power of the Minister should be noted, as the Minister will have power over controlled release areas decided by him or her. This will impact on the issuance of mining and exploration licences. It is quite astounding that the entire State is to be one of these controlled release areas when it comes to coalmining. This is of serious concern to the Opposition as it puts the State at risk of repeating the errors of the past in regard to these areas. The New South Wales Opposition's proposed moratorium on coal seam gas mining is a perfect remedy for the weakness in this bill. Mining licences are a contentious issue with a nearly unlimited number of channels for error. The Baird Government needs to be responsible in managing future licences and, in particular, the Minister needs to be extremely vigilant in reviewing licence applications. [Extension of time agreed to.]

At this stage the Opposition does not oppose the Mining and Petroleum Amendment (Grant of Coal and Petroleum Prospecting Titles) Bill. We will allow the passage of this bill through the Legislative Assembly at this time, but the bill does require scrutiny and possible amendments at the Committee stage. I will now discuss the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015. This bill attempts to synchronise elements of the Mining Act and the Petroleum Act. The bill introduces codes of practice as a condition of each title. It seeks to make compliance and enforcement powers consistent across the mining and petroleum industries. It also increases the power of departmental inspectors. Reform with a vision of strict compliance is welcome. There is always the possibility of accidents at mining and petroleum companies and such accidents have the potential to do enormous damage to the environment of New South Wales.

However, there are weaknesses in this proposed legislation. The harmonisation that the Government is seeking is not currently possible without further reforms to other pieces of legislation. There might be prescribed and conflicting penalties under multiple laws. This needs to be settled. For example, penalties under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 and the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 were increased last year. The Opposition does not oppose the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill at this stage, but the bill will need amendment and review at the Committee stage.

Finally, I address the reforms proposed by the Mining and Petroleum Legislation (Land Access Arbitration) Bill 2015 that seeks to improve the balance of power between landowners and industry. Balancing the rights of the landowners and industry is a contentious issue that the Baird Government cannot ignore. The bill offers three main reforms that largely follow independent recommendations made last year. These reforms are clarifying the rights of landholders; providing a dispute resolution framework; and updating provisions regarding the boundaries of titles. These are good reforms. When the current Leader of the Opposition was the shadow Minister for the Environment he supported similar reforms.

Further amendments include good faith negotiation obligations on all parties; a framework for the payment of the costs of disputes, new provisions around the appointment of arbitrators; the explicit legal right to legal representation for mediation and arbitration; and capping reasonable costs in dispute resolution. These are very sensible reforms. Mining and petroleum extraction is affected by major issues, as are the owners of land on which companies wish to mine, extract or explore. The entire land holdings of some landowners and the net worth of some landowners are potentially at risk. The mining and petroleum companies, a mainstay of the New South Wales economy, may invest hundreds of millions of dollars in exploration and the establishment of mine sites.

The flow on to job creation and the contribution to the New South Wales economy can also be significant. Therefore, the extension of legal rights to both parties for effective mediation is a necessary reform. The New South Wales Opposition does not oppose the Mining and Petroleum Legislation (Land Access Arbitration) Bill. In fact, all the bills represent the continuation of necessary industry reforms in New South Wales. This is decent legislation that will be reviewed in the other place. We need this legislation and I congratulate the Government on introducing it. As such, I commend these bills to the House.

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