A 15-fold fine increase set to shake up Queensland’s mines

8 December 2017

In light of a recent parliamentary inquiry, Queensland’s maximum mine safety fines for corporations have the potential to increase to nearly $3.8 million, almost 15-fold the original.

The Queensland Mines Legislation (Resources Safety) Amendment Bill 2017 increases the maximum fine for most contraventions causing death, from the current $252,300 (or 2000 penalty units) to $3,784, 500 (or 30,000 penalty units). In fact, penalties have been significantly increased across 15 areas in total, in some circumstances introducing civil penalties of up to $126,150 and jail terms of up to three years.

This all comes despite the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) not supporting the idea of giving regulators power to impose high civil penalties as “it effectively introduces a system of administrative fines that are inappropriate in the context of potentially serious concerns about mining safety and health”.

Instead, the QRC wants the civil penalties to align with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 where for minor breaches the maximum penalty is 100 points, so currently $12,615.

Further, the QRC is worried that under the new changes, the time frame to respond to civil penalty notices is unreasonable, and duty holders have the potential to be penalised twice for the same breach – “If the proposal is to proceed largely as proposed, then it needs at least to be amended to remove the prospect of double jeopardy […] under the Bill, a civil penalty cannot be issued after a conviction for the corresponding offence, but there is nothing to prevent a prosecution following a civil penalty”.

The Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Inquiry Committee highlighted the QRC’s concerns, and Liberal National Party members of the inquiry committee have stated that they would “appreciate” it, if the Minister addresses them. They also share the concerns regarding the timeframe for civil penalties and want an explanation as to why proposed exemptions for opal and gem mines with fewer than 11 workers were dumped. Nevertheless, they do not oppose the passage to increase penalties.

The committee more generally also had two further recommendations:

  1. That the relevant Minister explains the reasons for the proposed amendments to the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999, and the State Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 which gives the minister discretionary power to appoint people without the required experience to mine safety and health advisory committees; and
  2. The Bill is amended so that chief inspectors appointed under mine safety laws are required to at least hold a first-class certificate of competency in their pertinent type of mining. 

To end, the inquiry chair – Labor MP Jim Pearce wants to make it clear that what this Bill and inquiry show is that despite the Queensland’s mine safety and health Acts and Regulations being world renowned as those of best practice, like everything, there is always room for improvement and “there is no place for complacency in mine worker safety and health”.