GFCQ Review of RPI – missing one letter – A for Agriculture

By Shay Dougall – Principle of Molliwell, Shay is a landholder advocate and Chinchilla resident. Molliwell is a health and safety consultancy specialising in all aspects of workplace health & safety for small to medium businesses. Shay completed her Masters in OHSE (ACU) 2019.

The Gas Fields Commission Queensland have released their report on their limited scope review of the Regional Planning Interests Act (RPI).  The review was recommended by the Queensland Audit Office’s (QAO) Performance Audit Report “Managing Coal Seam Gas Activities”. 

AcronymFull Name
GFCQGas Fields Commission Queensland
QAOQueensland Audit Office’s
RPIRegional Planning Interests Act
CCAConduct and Compensation Agreement
RIDARegional Interests Development Approval

Previously “The Queensland Audit Office in February 2020 issued a scathing report on the government’s inability to manage the CSG industry. It raised serious questions around a lack of transparency, ineffective compliance management and data, and failures of legislative function” and “Therefore, the audit has shown what landholders have understood all along, that government departments are not managing the coal seam gas industry effectively, particularly regarding the impacts for the landholders expected to host the industry.”

The QAO recommended that the GFCQ “reviews the assessment process identified under the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 to determine whether the process adequately manages coal seam gas activities in areas of regional interest”.

Incidentally, the QAO also recommended that the government consider the effectiveness of the Commission in delivering value, particularly considering it is not fulfilling all its legislated functions and stakeholders question its effectiveness and independence.  GFCQ was failing in the one role it has that makes it distinct to the many other government entities designed to ‘manage the gas industry’. That being, its role in oversight of the regulatory framework.

Rig in a paddock By Charles Thomas Copyright NSW Farmers’ Association (2012)

The recommendations are heavy on trying to get just one run on the board in seven years by removing the absurd landowner agreement exemption, GFCQ then fail by replacing it with more self-assessing codes and even more burden for the landholder. What GFCQ describe as “enhancements” means more unpaid work for landholders.

More importantly GFCQ has completely failed in the last half of the QAO recommendation to: “determine whether the process adequately manages coal seam gas activities in areas of regional interest”.

Are agricultural values, priority agricultural areas and strategic cropping land being protected and sustained by this legislation?  Do these recommendations that have taken seven years actually do anything to improve this obvious fundamental flaw in the RPI Act?  No, they do not.

GFCQ Acting CEO Warwick Squire holding the Review of the-Regional Planning Interests Act 2014. Image GFCQ website

The recommendations of the QAO remain woefully unaddressed and there are some fundamental problems with the GFCQ approach to the review:

  • The integrity of the review itself: the ‘report’ provides no description of who undertook the review, what qualifications they had, what process was used and if it met any standards relating to legislative review?  What is the feedback process from the Minister, will there be a response, or will this just be another echo chamber?
  • The quality of the report itself appears impressive in the formatting, but the content is marginal. 
  • The incorrect use of the words such as “protect” demonstrates a failure to understand the core issue with the Act. Nowhere in the RPI Act does the word PROTECT appear.
  • The use of the term ‘co-existence’ in the role of the GFCQ and in relation to the RPI Act when the term has no definition. How is it able to be determined ‘co-existence’ has been achieved when we don’t know what it is?
  • Broad statements of ‘fact’ with no supporting evidence. Eg “The onshore gas industry has achieved a high level of co-existence generally when undertaking activities.”
  • Use of the term “incentivised” in the following quoted paragraph on page 11 demonstrates another grave and fundamentally wrong, resource friendly, assumption being made by GFCQ. There is nothing about the RPI act that has anything to actually do with CCAs with landholders, it is NOT a “voluntary agreement” – a farmer cannot veto – and who exactly is it “incentivising” and why? What has this to do with Agriculture?:

    “Whilst the Commission considers voluntary agreements with land owners to be a preferable outcome incentivised within the RPI Act, it also considers other aspects in relation to the wider impacts to be as equally important.”
  • Did the review include any detailed case study assessment of any current or past RIDAs? What were the findings of such an analysis? Did the review consider any real examples of agriculture and how the process in reality meets the specifics recommended by the QAO? An analysis of two specific current Arrow Energy RIDAs provide very clear examples of significant problems with the process that this superficial review has failed to find.
  • Was there any in the field analysis done on the real issues?
  • Did GFCQ address the fundamental problems with the Act, or did they just superficially skim off the top and repackage the current problems with the Act?
  • What feedback process exists for those who submitted to the review regarding their input on the GFCQ recommendations?
Rusting infrastructure leaking next to a paddock. Image supplied

To summarise the lacking GFCQ report on the RPI Act:

  • Reviewed the assessment process, by receiving 15 landholder/community submissions unanimous in their concern that the RPI Act does not PROTECT agricultural values and its only intention is to facilitate resource activities (as was said by these same groups in 2013 when the new act was introduced).  Three submissions from the gas industry asserted there was nothing wrong with the Act as it was. Despite what the QAO identified originally.
  • Produced seven recommendations, five of which were relating to the RIDA assessment administration and exemptions process. (No recommendations address the self-assessment process that has the gas industry choosing its own adventure, in fact GFCQ added another layer to the self-assessment jackpot.)
  • In true neoliberal ‘desktop’ bureaucratic style, GFCQ have generously imagined that a solution to transparency and agricultural values being protected is to burden the landholder to volunteer for the RPI administering body. The GFCQ suggests the landholder undertake, on their own time, and with their own resources, even more detailed assessment of gas company documentation and information. 

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