Legislative changes flagged as minor amendments by the Queensland Government could have major consequences for rights to compensation for many landholders affected by coal seam gas developents, according to country solicitor Peter Shannon.
Mr Shannon, co-principal of Shannon Donaldson Province Lawyers in Dalby and Toowoomba, has played a leading role in identifying shortfalls in legislative protections for landholders against CSG throughout the industry’s ongoing development surge.
His vigilance and persistence forced the hand of the then-Labor Government in Queensland to introduce long-delayed water level thresholds to trigger the enforcement of make good provisions in 2009, the absence of which had previously limited the liability of CSG companies when other groundwater users were negatively impacted by their operations.
Mr Shannon continues to monitor changes to Acts that govern the coal seam gas industry very closely and has expressed particular concern about amendments made to the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 pushed through Parliament by the new LNP Government in Queensland last week.
“The motive behind some of these amendments is questionable, however it is our opinion that the slyest amendment is the change to the definition of ‘occupier’,” Mr Shannon said.
Mr Shannon sent a statement to the rural and urban media to outline his concerns yesterday. It said:
“By way of summary, a CSG company has an obligation to compensate each owner and occupier of the Land for the compensatable effects (i.e. diminution of value, cost, loss, damage etc.) they suffer because of the company’s activities.
“Last week, the definition of occupier changed from ‘a person who has the right to occupy a place…’ to ‘a person who, under an Act, or, for freehold land, a lease registered under the Land Title Act 1994, has a right to occupy the place…’. Up until last week, a CSG company had an obligation to negotiate with and compensate:
1. Owners of the Land; and
2. Occupiers of the Land, which included anyone who had a ‘right to occupy’ the Land, being companies, family trusts, partnerships and other like arrangements.
With the amendments, a CSG company only now has the obligation to compensate:
1. Owners of the Land; and
2. Occupiers of the Land, which is essentially just those with a registered lease.
“The government explanation for the change is: ‘The Bill also contains a minor amendment to the definition of ‘occupier’ in the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, to fix an inconsistency with other resource legislation.’
“This so called ‘minor amendment’ has effectively stripped every family trust, partnership, company etc., who runs an operation on the Land, of their entitlement to compensation unless they happen to be the owner of the Land or if they have a lease registered on the title, which most do not.
“The majority of landholders in Queensland operate their properties with family trusts, companies and/or partnerships with unregistered leases, and it is these entities who have been stripped of their right to compensation.”