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Australia – The Gasfields Commission Bill 2012: What It Means For Gas Operators In Queensland.

5 December, 2012

 

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

 

In brief

 

  • The Gasfields Commission Bill 2012 (“Bill“) was introduced into Queensland Parliament on 27 November 2012.
  • When enacted, the Bill will formalise the existence of the Gasfields Commission and Gasfields Community Leaders Council and clarify the Commission’s powers and functions.
  • Despite the Commission’s request to be able to compel farmers and miners to arbitration, such a power has not been included in the Bill.
  • Additionally, the powers of the Commission proposed under the Bill to obtain information from stakeholders are also subject to extensive limitations.

 

Introduction

 

The Gasfields Commission has been operating under Chairperson John Cotter, former chairperson of the Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group, and past AgForce president, for several months and on 27 November the Newman Government introduced the Gasfields Commission Bill 2012 into parliament to formalise the Commission and provide it with a range of powers.

 

The current Commission

 

As well as the Chairperson, the Commission currently consists of  Mr Don Stiller, former Mayor of Taroom;

 

  • Mr Ian Hayllor, a cotton farmer and irrigator who is Chair of the Basin Sustainability Alliance;
  • Councillor Ray Brown, Mayor of Western Downs Regional Council;
  • Mr Rick Wilkinson, Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association;
  • Professor Steven Raine, soil scientist from the University of Southern Queensland; and
  • Mr Shane Charles – Chief Executive Officer of Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise.

 

For more information about the composition of the Commission please visit http://www.gasfieldscommissionqld.org.au/gasfields.

 

Functions of the Commission

 

The Commission’s primary function is to promote the co-existence of landholders, regional communities and the onshore gas industries. To do so, it is intended to act as a facilitator between the various stakeholders, provide advice to Ministers and government entities about regulatory frameworks, current issues in the industry and co-existence issues as well as provide general information and research related to the onshore gas industry. The Commission must also establish a committee known as the Gasfields Community Leaders Council to assist it to identify issues affecting the co-existence of the various stakeholders. The Council is already in existence and information about its membership can be found at http://www.industry.qld.gov.au/lng/surat-basin-group.html.

 

Powers of the Commission

 

The powers of the Commission relate mostly to the collation of information from government entities as well as “prescribed entities”. “Prescribed entities” are broadly defined to include all holders of land (freehold or leasehold) in Queensland, entities that are undertaking the exploration, production or transportation of petroleum through a pipeline (known as “onshore gas operators”) and companies engaged to carry out work on behalf of an onshore gas operator.

 

Both government entities and prescribed entities are obliged to comply with requests for information made by the Chairperson unless:

 

  • the information is not in its possession or control; 
  • complying with the request would place the entity in contravention of a law; or
  • the request relates to someone else’s confidential information and they refuse to give consent to its disclosure despite the entity’s reasonable efforts to obtain consent.

 

Additionally, prescribed entities do not have to comply with an information request if:

 

  • the relevant material is incriminating;
  • the relevant material is confidential to the entity; or
  • the giving of the material might be to the detriment of the entity’s commercial or other interests.

 

There are fines of 100 penalty units for non-compliance with a request, however the likelihood of the imposition of a fine must be viewed in light of the broad exemptions available.

 

The Commission also has the power to require chief executives of government entities to provide advice relevant to the Commission’s functions. There is a requirement that government entities developing policy or legislation which will affect the onshore gas industry consult with the Commission, but a failure to do so does not affect the validity of any decision.

 

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Tony Denholder, Partner, Ashurst

clare.lawrence@ashurst.com

 

Glenn Wilshier, Ashurst

glenn.wilshier@ashurst.com

 

Nerida Cooley, Ashurst

nerida.cooley@ashurst.com

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