Madeleine King and Tanya Plibersek to have joint sign-off of changes to gas consultation rules

Headshot of Katina Curtis
Katina Curtis
The Nightly
Resources Minister Madeleine King is tweaking new laws to ensure two ministers approve regulations.
Resources Minister Madeleine King is tweaking new laws to ensure two ministers approve regulations. Credit: JONO SEARLE/AAPIMAGE

Resources Minister Madeleine King will tweak new laws aimed at reducing “lawfare” over offshore gas projects to clarify she and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will both have to approve changes to consultation processes.

The regulatory changes, bundled into legislation to strengthen worker safety on offshore projects, have drawn the ire of environmental groups, the Greens and crossbench senators.

But the Government and gas sector say they are vital to give the industry certainty over projects such as Santos’ Barossa venture.

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Under the amendment Ms King will make to the legislation on Monday, both the resources and environment ministers must jointly approve regulations to clear up the rules of engagement between gas companies and landholders or Indigenous groups – rather than solely the resources minister as previously proposed.

It will also put a sunset clause on the changes.

The Government believes these changes will make clear its longstanding intention to maintain the integrity of the environmental protection regime.

It has sought to strike a balance between upholding the principles of that regime while giving projects that have been approved a degree of certainty around legal challenges.

“Environmental organisations, First Nations groups, industry, and resources companies have all told us that our system of consultation is not working,” Ms King said.

“There will be no change to rigorous environmental assessments. No environmental standards will be watered down. And there will be no fast track for offshore projects.”

The industry has been demanding greater clarity around the process after approvals for the Barossa project and Woodside’s Scarborough venture were overturned in court due to inadequate consultation with First Nations groups.

Santos told a Senate committee examining the laws earlier in the month the consultation process that existed was being used as a “continued veto power” by opponents.

The Greens have complained that both the legislation and the inquiry were rushed, and they and independent senators David Pocock and Lidia Thorpe want the section about the consultation processes removed.

Greens environment spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young accused the Government of “pandering to the demands of the gas CEOs” and weakening environment laws.

“Any attempt to silence voices from the community who may be in opposition to these massive offshore gas projects will put our clean beaches and marine life at risk,” she said.

But the Coalition, via senators Dean Smith and Andrew Bragg, said the laws would give regulatory security for the resources minister to make much-needed changes to the approvals processes and offer the industry certainty.

The legislation is scheduled for debate in the lower house on Monday.

The government sees it as a priority, however with only three sitting days before the six-week pre-Budget break it may not have time to also pass the Senate.

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