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25 Jun 12
Mining safety laws harmonisation update

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By Cameron Dean (Partner) and Jeremy Kennedy (Partner)

The Queensland Government has released a public discussion paper about proposed changes to mine safety legislation and we are interested in your views.  Workplace Relations and Safety Partner, Cameron Dean explains further.

Background

In Queensland’s non-mining sector, new work health and safety (WHS) laws commenced from 1 January 2012.  These laws are based on model Federal WHS legislation that was developed by Safe Work Australia through consultation between Federal, State and Territory governments.
Those laws have not affected the ongoing application of existing WHS laws in Queensland’s mining industry, and in particular the legislative schemes for the coal mining and metalliferous sectors that fall within the scope of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) and Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) respectively.

At Federal level, draft model WHS Regulations – Mining (Draft Mining Regulations) and Model Codes of Practice for Mining (Draft Mining Codes) were released for public comment by Safe Work Australia throughout the second half of 2011 and have not yet been finalised.

The work undertaken by Safe Work Australia in relation to WHS issues in the mining industry interacts with work being performed under the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF).

The NMSF was established with a view towards developing consistent WHS legislative schemes for the mining industry throughout Australia, but without lowering standards.  As part of this process there are ‘core’ reform steps, together with separate ‘non-core’ provisions being developed through tripartite cooperation between the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian state governments.

As part of the Issues Paper released by Safe Work Australia about the Draft Mining Regulations and Draft Mining Codes, it was stated that the anticipated position to be taken in Queensland (as at July 2011) was that:

  • there would be industry-specific WHS laws on mining, comprising an Act and regulations generally based on the model Federal WHS laws, with additional elements drawn from the outcomes of the ‘non-core’ legislative development process; and
  • consistent but separate WHS laws would be maintained for the coal mining industry.

Queensland update

Contrary to what was stated back in July 2011, Queensland’s Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, the Honourable Andrew Cripps, announced on 6 June 2012 that the preference of the Queensland Government is to retain the current mine safety legislation.

A public consultation paper has since been released in support of this (click here), in which three options have been put forward for the governance of WHS within Queensland’s coal mining and metalliferous sectors:

  • retain the existing legislative schemes, plus any NMSF provisions that improve safety and consistency;
  • adopt one single Act, plus any NMSF provisions that improve safety and consistency; or
  • develop mine safety legislation primarily based on the Federal model legislation, plus any NMSF provisions that improve safety and consistency.

The consultation period runs until Monday, 23 July 2012

Following this, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines intends to implement new legislation by 31 December 2012.  To do this, the proposed legislation is intended to be introduced into the Queensland Parliament in the last quarter of 2012. 

No news about petroleum and gas

The consultation paper does not address what is intended for WHS laws in Queensland’s petroleum and gas industry, currently governed by the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (Qld).  Given the importance of this sector to Queensland’s economy, it is hoped that there will also be discussion about how WHS for this sector will be treated so that there will be certainty across all parts of Queensland’s resources industry.

Your next steps

The consultation paper gives only a limited window within which industry stakeholders have an opportunity to comment on their preferred model for the governance of safety and health laws in the Queensland mining industry.  There are important legal, philosophical and practical considerations that must be addressed.  It is strongly recommended that feedback on the proposals should be provided within the requested time frame.

As noted earlier, the clear view of the Department is that no change is required.  As part of the statement made by the Minister on 6 June 2012, he said:

‘The question we pose to the resources sector is whether there is any justification for Queensland adopting change for the sake of administrative harmonisation with the National Model Work Health and Safety legislation ... The current attitude of the Newman LNP Government is that we remain unconvinced that the national model legislation is in Queensland’s best interests.  We will not be changing the legislation for the sake of administrative harmonisation.’

The Department has requested that responses be in line with their template public comment response form (click here), but that the responses can also outline any other issues or options that are considered important.  It is noted that the Department has particularly highlighted that information about possible compliance costs, impacts on competition or broader costs and benefits of each option are of particular interest.

What McCullough Robertson are doing

McCullough Robertson’s WHS team is currently considering the issues raised in the consultation paper with a view to developing a response. 

Should you have an interest in participating in this process and our upcoming information session about the consultation paper, please let us know.

For further assistance or enquiries please contact Cameron Dean on +61 7 3233 8619 or Jeremy Kennedy on +61 2 4924 8909.

Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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