In 2015 the Queensland Government commissioned an independent review of the Gasfields Commission to assess, among other things: whether the Gasfields Commission was achieving its purpose; to evaluate its effectiveness in managing disputes; and to investigate whether an alternative dispute resolution model was required for landholders and gas companies.
Since the review was released in July 2016, the Queensland Government has been working towards reforming the Gasfields Commission.
On 10 May 2017, the Gasfields Commission and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 was introduced to Parliament, which seeks to:
- remove the commission’s dispute resolution functions;
- improve community access to health and wellbeing information relating to the onshore gas industry and facilitating community engagement and participation in health and wellbeing initiatives through the commission; and
- amend the role of the Chief Executive Officer to reflect the broader responsibilities for the position.
On 23 May 2017 the Land Access Ombudsman Bill 2017 was introduced to Parliament with the purpose of establishing an independent land access ombudsman to assist with disputes between landholders and gas companies relating to:
- breaches of a Conduct and Compensation Agreement (CCA); or
- breaches of a Make Good Agreement.
The functions of the ombudsman will include investigating and facilitating the resolution of disputes and to refer or recommend to relevant State departments the investigation of possible offences being committed under relevant legislation including the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, Water Act 2000 and Environmental Protection Act 1994.
Most agreements entered into between companies and landholders contain a dispute resolution clause setting out how the parties must resolve disputes. The Bill seeks to allow a person to refer a dispute to the Land Access Ombudsman even if a dispute resolution clause applies to their agreement.