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The New Queensland Government: Implications for Energy

March 26, 2012

In Australia, the resource-rich state of Queensland has a new Government which won by a landslide over the weekend and has a mandate and ambition to shake up energy and resources regulation with a view to reducing costs to industry – particularly an opposition to the federally-introduced resource rent and carbon taxes.

Within the Queensland Liberal policy position on resources and energy, this theme is clear.  The party also commits to clean energy and alternative technology and fuels.  This terminology includes underground coal gasification (a major proponent of which was a donor to the Liberals) and perhaps also be broadened to include natural gas (and the range that that encompasses – coal seam gas, natural gas, and shale gas).  The strategy sets out ways in which the new Government may seek to enhance Coal Seam Gas exploration and production.  The six identified alternative energy technologies of focus are:  solar, geothermal, unconventional liquid fuels, bio-energy/fuel cells, wind, and marine/tidal.

The ABC reports the position of the QRC regarding the incoming Government:

Michael Roche is the chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council and says they want to see changes that have been promised.

“That includes a separate department for mining and energy, a stronger role for the coordinator general and the restructure of environmental regulator to make sure that it focussed on delivering environmental outcomes.”

The LNP strategy for the mining and energy sector specifies a goal of stablity and efficiency in environmental regulation.

In a news release, the QRC stipulates their commmitment to the sector delivering ‘the world’s best environmental and social outcomes‘.

Environmental regulators typically operate to provide positive environmental outcomes.  They’re staffed by environmentalists.  It is strange that the Liberal position seems to indicate that, at present, environmental regulation is directed towards something other than environmental outcomes.  In the Strategy document, it seems that they wish to depose perceived idealogy and politics within officialdom.

One major change will be a shake-up of Government departments through an election commitment to establish stand-alone agencies for each of mining and energy, and agriculture.  Both DME and DEEDI have important functions in relation to mining and energy.

We think that, when used by Queensland LNP, the words ‘World’s best environmental and social outcomes‘  imply a euphemism, or an omission.  It actually means that environmental and social outcomes will be of secondary importance to providing a process that easily enables project approvals and development.

Certainly, it seems that the new LNP Government aims to be much friendlier to the range of resource and energy companies.  However, much of the regulatory and fiscal infrastructure at which the Government aims is determined by Federal law. Resource Rent and Carbon taxes are unassailable by the States.  In Australia, while much of the implementation of environmental regulation is deferred to the States, it will take some time for a new State Government to understand, address and change the nuances of the approaches by which Federal legislation is interpreted and applied by officials, if that that is indeed the object.

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