With substantial economic development in Queensland reliant on the mining and petroleum industry we take a look at the role of the Queensland Land Court as a key decision-making forum.
The Land Court has a long history in Queensland which can be traced back over 100 years, particularly its dealings with Crown leases, their valuations, rentals, disputes and compensation issues.
In terms of the mining and petroleum matters, it has been six years since the Land Court was conferred with the jurisdiction of the Land and Resources Tribunal, which itself took over the functions of the Queensland Mining Wardens Court a number of years ago. As such it is an opportune time to set out the Land Court jurisdiction, the legislation governing its operation and the role it plays in the context of the mining and petroleum industry in Queensland.
Structure and powers
The Land Court is divided into two divisions, the General Division and the Cultural Heritage Division. The registry functions are performed by the Land Court and Tribunal Registry. This registry looks after the administration for the Land Court, the Land Appeals Court and the Aboriginal Land Tribunal.
Key legislation relevant to the general powers and procedures of the Land Court are found in:
Land Court Act 2000 (Qld)
Land Court Rules 2000; and
Land Court Regulations 2010.
The Land Court has significant power under this legislation, including to summon a person as a witness and require a person to produce documents. It also has the power to punish for contempt of court.
It is worth noting that under section 7 of the Land Court Act 2000 the Court is not bound by the rules of evidence and may inform itself in the way it considers appropriate. However, it must act according to equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case.
Notwithstanding these broad powers, the Land Court has issued a number of Practice Directions and Court Forms which should be followed when commencing and conducting proceedings before the Land Court.
A number of Practice Directions are specifically relevant to the grant or renewals of mining tenures (including determinations of compensation by the Land Court) and matters such as dealings with caveats on mining tenements.
Practice Direction 1 of 2011 sets out the requirements for filing compensation statements and any supporting affidavit material and subsequent response times when a mining compensation determination is being made under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld); and
Practice Direction 10 of 2009 sets out the procedure to be followed in making an application to the Land Court to remove a caveat over mining tenement.
In many instances matters may be referred to less formal, mediation and preliminary hearings where appropriate. Many matters are resolved in this manner or if not completely resolved, the issues are narrowed.
The Land Court Rules provides guidance on the more formal aspects of proceedings which will have particular relevance to more substantial cases, where as expected the proceedings will be more formal. To the extent that the Land Court Rules do not provide for a matter which is covered by the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (often referred to simply as the "UCPR") then the UCPR will apply. For example, this will cover matters such as disclosure and interrogatories.
Members of the Land Court
The membership of the Land Court is currently:
- C McDonald – President;
- P Smith – Member;
- W Isdale – Member;
- W Cochrane – Member;
- M Evans – Member; and
- Barry O'Connor – Judicial Registrar.
The Members and the Judicial Registrar each play an important role in the functioning of the Land Court. The Judicial Registrar predominantly looking after matters that can be determined on the papers as well as alternative dispute resolution process.
The Land Court Act contains provisions which set up the Land Appeal Court. The Land Appeals Court hears appeals from the Aboriginal Land Tribunal and the Land Court. It is constituted by two Land Court Members and a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
There are almost 50 different pieces of legislation conferring jurisdiction on the Land Court for determination of matters ranging from land valuation to mining compensation.
From a mining and petroleum industry perspective, the most relevant Land Court jurisdiction is conferred under:
The Mineral Resources Act 1989 for:
objections in respect of applications for mining leases;
recommendations to the Minister about whether to grant a mining lease and, if so, on what conditions;
the compensation liability of a tenement holder and reviewing access agreements and conduct and compensation agreements.
The Environmental Protection Act 1994 for:
objections in respect of applications for environmental authorities; and
recommendations to the Minister about whether to grant the application and, if so, on what conditions.
The Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 for:
Co-ordination arrangements between adjacent tenure holders;
recommendations to the Minister in respect of preference decisions between competing mining and petroleum applications;
the compensation liability of a tenure holder;
reviewing access agreements and conduct and compensation agreements.
The Petroleum Act 1923 for:
Other related matters over which the Land Court has jurisdiction include:
The Geothermal Energy Act 2010 for:
appeal of the decision not to grant a geothermal lease;
appeal against the refusal to approve proposed later work program;
applications for compensation relating of the carrying out of authorised activities under the geothermal tenure.
The Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 for:
- "SCL protection decisions" on the impact of a resources activity on strategic cropping or potential strategic cropping land;
- conditions that may be imposed on a resource authority holder in respect of the protection of the SCL.
The Water Act 2000 for
- disputes between landowners and petroleum and tenure holders regarding make good obligations and water bores.
The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 for:
- recording of findings of a cultural heritage study in the register;
- approval of cultural heritage management plan where chief executive refusal to approve plan.
Types of cases in the Land Court
Each year the Land Court produces a report which outlines the scope of the matters referred to the Court in that reporting year.
These reports are a useful tool in understanding the extent of the work undertaken by the Court and nature of that work. The Land Court of Queensland Annual Report 2011-2012, indicates that approximately 1,000 matters were referred to the court for determination in that year the majority of which fall within the General Division. In respect of the mining and petroleum and resource specific matters:
- 166 applications for mining tenements and claims for compensation under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 were lodged and 148 were finalised. With many of the compensation matters dealt with on the papers, dispensing with the need for a trial;
- 23 environmental objections under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 relating to mining, petroleum and gas tenures were lodged and 18 of those were finalised;
- two appeals under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety Act) 2004 were lodged; and
- two appeals were lodged under the Water Act 2000.
Clearly the Land Court in Queensland is playing a significant role in the mining and petroleum industry in Queensland.