: Environment, workplace safety, political donations & discrimination

Environment, workplace safety, political donations & discrimination

Kate Galloway

Land clearing is in the news again in Queensland. The government has introduced laws to re-tighten vegetation clearing regulations, which had been overturned by the previous government. Landholders are concerned about the impact of land clearing limits on their property values, while conservationists have noted the dramatic increase in land clearing activity following the more relaxed rules. Premier Newman’s 2013 amendments removed protection for high value regrowth forest, allowed landowners to self-assess their clearing, permitted remnant forest to be cleared for high-value agriculture, and put the onus of proof of an offence on to the government. The proposed changes will reverse these amendments, and they will operate retrospectively in an attempt to avoid panic tree-clearing.

In other heritage news the Queensland State Development Assessment Provisions will be amended to give more weight to heritage concerns. The Provisions contain the matters that may be considered in assessing a development application. Following the amendments, development applications for a heritage-listed property will need to examine whether there are any ‘prudent and feasible’ alternatives. Queensland has a long history of lax enforcement of heritage protection.

Following eight diagnosed cases of the deadly black lung disease in Queensland in the past year, a Senate Inquiry has called for new national standards for coal mining. The Medical Journal of Australia has since also recommended a three-yearly screening program and mandatory reporting. The disease was thought to have been eradicated 30 years ago, and its re-emergence in Queensland has caused considerable concern about work safety standards in coal mines.

Premier Palaszczuk has announced that the government will work with the Queensland Electoral Commission to implement real-time updates for local and state government political donations. The system is due to be implemented by February 2017, in what is a first in Australia.

In 2012, a deaf woman was excluded from sitting as a juror in the Ipswich District Court. She sued the state, claiming that she was discriminated against when the government refused to provide an Auslan interpreter that would have allowed her to participate as a juror. In 2015, the Queensland Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal, and she has now had her case heard by the High Court. On the one hand, the claim involves the question of whether it would be a miscarriage of justice to have a 13th person in the jury room. On the other hand, at stake is the full participation in society of people with a disability. The High Court has now handed down its verdict, finding that the Queensland government had not unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff. It is now up to the Parliament to consider legislative amendment to cater for circumstances such as these.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at Bond University.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 212
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