New QLD Bill Would Introduce Controversial Industrial Manslaughter Provisions For Mining Industry

Friday 6 March 2020 @ 2.55 p.m. | Crime | Industrial Law

On 4 February 2020, the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, the Hon Dr Anthony Lynham, introduced to Queensland’s Legislative Assembly, the Mineral and Energy Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (the “Bill”), with the Bill being immediately referred to the State Development, Natural Resources and Agricultural Industry Development Committee (the “Committee”) for detailed consideration with a report due by 27 March 2020.

The Bill proposes amendments to some 19 pieces of Queensland legislation.


As outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes (“EN”), the main objectives of the Bill relate to three Queensland Government priorities:

  1. Safety and health – to strengthen the safety culture in the resources sector through the introduction of industrial manslaughter offence provisions and requiring that persons appointed to critical safety statutory roles for coal mining operations must be an employee of the coal mine operator;
  2. Financial assurance – to implement legislative changes that support mine rehabilitation and financial assurance reforms that mitigate the financial risk to the State and improve rehabilitation outcomes for Queensland; and
  3. Regulatory efficiency – to improve the administration and effectiveness of the regulatory framework applying to resource projects.

One of the main priorities in the Bill is amending relevant legislation in the Queensland resources industry to “create industrial manslaughter offences and make important changes to the engagement of senior statutory positions at mines”.

The introduction of the industrial manslaughter offence has, as the ABC reports, raised controversy in the mining industry which was previously exempt from industrial manslaughter laws which were introduced in 2017. A further objective of the Bill is streamlining minor, and miscellaneous amendments to legislation within the Bill’s portfolio. These amendments are designed to improve the operation of these acts and regulations.

Submissions Received on the Bill

The Committee has so far received over 70 submissions from mining companies, industry bodies, unions, and workers who would be affected if the law is introduced - many of the submissions address only two Clauses of the 257-page document:

  • Clause 1 - is where the Bill requires critical safety statutory roles for coal mining operations be an employee of the mine operator itself — roles which are often held by contractors; and
  • Clause 2 - sets out that employers, and senior employees, can face a maximum 20 years' imprisonment if a worker dies because of a workplace injury.

In its submission, Queensland Law Society ("QLS") opposed the introduction of the industrial manslaughter law and said existing legislation to prosecute those responsible for mine deaths was adequate. President of the QLS, Luke Murphy submitted:

"QLS opposes the introduction of new criminal offences without cogent evidence to demonstrate their need and evidence that existing laws are not capable of capturing the conduct which is the target of the offence."

Mr Murphy went on to say that if the industrial manslaughter law must be introduced, it needed serious adjustment:

“ … the particular framing of obligations imposed on individual duty-holders under the Resources Safety Acts have the potential to make proposed industrial manslaughter laws particularly harsh and unjust … QLS is particularly concerned that an accused will therefore not be able to plead circumstances of accident, involuntariness or acts independent of their will.”

Comment and Reaction to the Bill

ABC News reports the new laws proposed in the Bill would carry a 20-year maximum sentence for employers and Senior Safety Officers at coal mines where workers are killed on the job.

Some stake-holders have welcomed the move to make Senior Safety Officer positions only available to permanent employees — a move intended to improve safety transparency onsite. But the proposal may have some way to go with mining companies, the QLS, and the mother of an injured mine worker who have labelled the law as “excessive”.

In a Media Statement, Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said his “… Government made no apology for laws that were about acting on negligence and saving lives”.

The Minister further commented:

“It is totally unacceptable that workers continue to die in our resources workplaces. Queensland already has the toughest mine safety and health laws in the world. These laws will give our 50,000 mine and quarry workers the same protections as other Queensland workers. These are part of the most comprehensive suite of mine health and safety reforms in two decades.”

Comment from the Resources Sector

Mining companies have welcomed the State Government action but have commented that the details of the proposed law were too extreme.

BHP submitted that the individual offence of industrial manslaughter be limited to the most senior levels of its organisation, excluding onsite safety representatives, from prosecution:

"We have already seen this effect within our business, in that the proposed 'senior officer' offence has already generated significant anxiety amongst our SSEs [site senior executives] and those reporting to them … the consequence of this is that the coal mining industry could face a rapid decline in the level of skill and experience held at the SSE level. This would undermine the bill's objective of strengthening safety culture.”

Victoria Somlyay, Head of Corporate Relations at Anglo American Metallurgical Coal Pty Ltd said in her submission:

"… Whilst Anglo American does not oppose the introduction of an industrial manslaughter provision within the Bill, we hold serious concerns about the current drafting of the Bill … The exposure of site statutory positions and other site employees to criminal charges, with limited defences, would be a strong deterrent for the individuals in those positions to take ownership of safety-related decisions including risk assessments."

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