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Australia – Release Of The Queensland Ports Strategy.

17 June, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia –  Energy & Project Finance

 

What You Need To Know

 

  • The Queensland Government has now released the finalised version of the Queensland Ports Strategy.
  • The finalised strategy largely replicates the draft that was released for consultation in late 2013 and notably, includes the same five key action items:

 

1. Establish Priority Port Development Areas;
2. Concentrate port development;
3. Review port governance;
4. Improve supply chain infrastructure coordination and delivery; and
5. Develop a statutory master planning guideline.

 

  • Significantly however, the finalised Queensland Ports Strategy provides more detail in relation to the content that will be required for the port development plans for those ports identified as Priority Port Development Areas, namely the Port of Abbot Point, Port of Brisbane, Port of Gladstone, Port of Hay Point and Port of Mackay, and Port of Townsville. 
  • The Queensland Government has stated its intention to introduce bills to achieve the five key action items before the end of this year.

 
What You Need To Do

 

  • Stakeholders should monitor bills that are tabled to the State Parliament to implement the Ports Strategy with the first tranche of key legislative instruments proposed to be tabled in late 2014. 

 
The Honourable Jeff Seeney MP, Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning released the Queensland Port Strategy (QPS) on 5 June 2014. A full copy of the QPS is available from the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning here. The release of the QPS follows over 200 written submissions being received by the Queensland Government on the consultation draft QPS in the last few months of 2013 (a summary of these submissions has also been prepared and is available from the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning here).

 
The Queensland Port Strategy

 
The QPS is the architecture for the Queensland Government’s port development designs for the next decade. The primary objective of the designs are to provide certainty of continued economic growth of, and contribution from, ports whilst ensuring the protection of Queensland’s environmental assets. This objective is reflected in the vision of the QPS, which is to:

 

“drive economic growth through the efficient use and development of Queensland’s long-established major port areas, while protecting and managing Queensland’s outstanding environmental assets.”

 
The five key action items outlined in the QPS are to:

 
1. establish Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs);
2. concentrate port development;
3. review port governance;
4. improve supply chain infrastructure coordination and delivery; and
5. develop a statutory master planning guideline.

 

These five action items replicate the action items previously highlighted in the earlier consultation draft QPS.


What’s New In The QPS?

 
An aspect of the QPS that has received more detailed consideration than in the earlier consultation draft is the specifics of what will be required in preparing a port master plan. Whilst port planning is not a new concept either internationally or in Queensland (as it was flagged as an action item in the consultation draft of the QPS), it is helpful that further detail has been provided as to what these master plans will require.

 
Environmental Protection In Port Master Plans

 
Following consideration of the requirements arising under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBCA), the Queensland Government has determined that the ‘avoid, mitigate, offset’ hierarchy of principles will apply to port master plans. In practice this will require:

 

  • where possible, that impacts on environmental values are to be avoided; 
  • where avoidance is not possible, that insofar as is feasible, impacts must be mitigated; and 
  • any residual loss to environmental values that cannot be either avoided or mitigated must be offset.

 
The Queensland Government is currently developing a Queensland offsets framework. This framework will work with the Australian Government Offset Policy to respond to any residual State and significant impacts on environmental values respectively, and will inform the offsetting of any residual losses.

 
In addition, port master plans will require a port-specific environmental management framework. This framework is aimed at providing an environmental management tool for the port that facilitates the achievement of efficient and effective environmental management by:

 

  • identifying and assessing environmental values;
  • describing the outcomes that are to be achieved with respect to the identified environmental values; and 
  • outlining how these environmental outcomes are to be achieved at a port specific level.

 
As part of the environmental management framework, ports will be required to assess cumulative impacts to identify potential impacts beyond project boundaries. The Queensland Government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will work together to develop guidelines for assessing such cumulative impacts.

 
Features Of Port Master Plans

 
The Queensland Government intends that these port master plans will be key strategic documents for each of the five PPDAs for the next 30 years. These plans are to outline the key objectives and strategies both for the landside and waterside development of each PPDA.

 
The substantive content of each port master plan will be informed by the specific issues that the Queensland Government has flagged as being key considerations when preparing a port master plan. These include the following:

 

  • trade forecasts and scenario analysis (for which the Queensland Government will develop a guideline to assist such analysis); 
  • port user requirements and trade facilitation objectives; 
  • environmental values and outcomes;
  • social and cultural heritage values and outcomes;
  • critical landside and waterside logistics and operational matters; 
  • efficiency in infrastructure delivery; and
  • port governance.

The need to consider these issues in preparing a port master plan suggests that these plans will be complex documents that strike a balance between environmental and cultural values and economic and operational performance.

 
Streamlined Assessment And Approvals

 
To streamline both State and Federal developmental approvals, the Queensland Government will develop a “one-stop shop” for port development assessment and approval processes. Similarly, the Queensland Government is in the process of reviewing existing legislation with a view to identifying opportunities to simplify the regulatory requirements associated with land-use planning and development approvals.

 

Finally, the Queensland Government will also ensure that all State planning controls interact with PPDAs (which may require an amendment of the State Planning Policy).

 
Practical Implications

 
It is not clear from the QPS who will be responsible for the preparation of the port master plans for each of the relevant ports. Whilst the majority of ports comprising the PPDA are presently managed by government owned port corporations, the Port of Brisbane has been leased to a private operator and the Queensland Government has indicated in its recently released economic plan that it is contemplating offering the operations at the each of the currently government-owned Port of Gladstone and Port of Townsville to private operators on long-term leases.

 
Accordingly, considerations of who will be responsible for the preparation of the (significant) port master plans, as well as the practical reality of working within the constraints of such a plan over the proposed 30 year horizon of these plans, will be key items for any potential investors in the operation of the Port of Gladstone or the Port of Townsville.

 
What Are The Next Steps?

 
We set out in Table 1 below the key steps and timing for the Queensland Government to enact the legislative aspects of the action items of the QPS.

 
With this timing in mind, the remainder of 2014 will be critical to the implementation of the QPS as the Queensland Government has announced that it intends to introduce bills to achieve the five key action items from the QPS before the end of this year. Accordingly, stakeholders should closely monitor any relevant legislative instruments that the Queensland Government introduces into Parliament.

 

Table 1: Key steps and timing for Queensland Government actions

 

Queensland Government Actions Timing
Introducing bills into Parliament to:

 

  • establish the five PPDAs;
  • prohibit dredging outside the PPDAs for 10 years;
  • require master plans to be developed for PPDAs; and
  • reduce assessment/approval duplication.
Late 2014

 

Streamlining environmental approvals under the EPBCA for port developments. 2015
The identification and implementation of legislative or administrative amendments to streamline port development. 2014 to 2016

 

Reviewing the State Planning Policy. 2015

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Mark Hourigan, Partner, Ashurst 
mark.hourigan@ashurst.com


Shane Bosma, Ashurst
shane.bosma@ashurst.com


David Morgans, Ashurst
david.morgans@ashurst.com

 

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