Natural Gas Authority (Notice of Works) Amendment Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 15:46 :45 ): I apologise if I held the house up a little. I was expecting this to be the bill after one at the moment, but that was clearly a mix-up. Let me say at the outset that I think this is a pretty straightforward bill, and I appreciate the information briefings from the minister and his staff on this issue. Essentially, what we are really talking about here is the Natural Gas Authority Act 1967, which applies to the Moomba gas pipeline and the Katnook gas pipeline and their associated spurs to Port Bonython, for example, and, as I understand it, just trying to get things back on track the way they were.

The Natural Gas Authority Act 1967 was amended in 1995 when the pipelines were sold to Epic Energy. These amendments extinguished the previous registered easements and replaced them with statutory easements. However, this did not include a requirement for landowners to give notice to or gain the consent of the pipeline owner for work near the pipeline which did previously exist.

An important aspect of what the government is establishing here is that the pipeline owner may not object to the proposed work, unless the owner of the pipeline is of the opinion that the work would interfere with the safety or operation of the pipeline or associated equipment, and that the owner of the pipeline would have to set out very clearly reasons why the owner of the pipeline was concerned. That seems pretty straightforward, and the opposition supports this bill.

I have a few questions which, hopefully, we can resolve quite easily, but for the benefit of those who read Hansard I will put a few things on the record to summarise really clearly what we are talking about in a little more detail. One of the key distances is: what is near the pipeline and when do people really need to come and ask for this permission? The bill and the act specify that easements subject to this bill may vary between 15 to 25 metres in width for the main pipeline and 3 to 15 metres in width for the small lateral/spur pipelines.

The bill requires landowners, lessees and other parties such as road and rail operators to seek permission for prescribed work near pipelines. The bill also outlines the process to be followed to reach a resolution if consent is not granted. Prescribed works, and this is really getting to the nub of it, include the following:

(a) excavating, drilling, installing or erecting any pit, well, foundation, pavement or other structure; or

(b) disturbing or altering the grades and contours of the servient land; or

(c) planting trees or shrubs; or

(d) storing plant machinery, equipment or materials; or

(e) using explosives.

The bill proposes that the way the communication would work, whenever a landowner wants to do any of these activities, is that landowner or other parties must give 21 days notice of proposed work on the pipeline easements. Within 14 days of receiving the written notice, the authority must consent or object to the proposed works with an option to extend this period by mutual agreement or negotiation. I note on that point that it would be possible for the pipeline owner to come back to the party that would like to do the work sooner if that was practical, and I am sure in many cases that would be sensible, particularly for very minor and routine, regular work that that landowner or operator did on a regular basis that the pipeline owner/operator was very familiar with.

The next stage in the communications is the pipeline owner must not object to proposed work—and I say this again, because this is actually very important—unless the owner is of the opinion that the work would interfere with the safety or operation of the pipelines, and must set out the reasons for the objection in the notice to the landowner or other party. That is obviously very important and that gives some comfort to the people who would need to do this work from time to time: the pipeline owner cannot be obstructionist. I have no reason to believe that they would or have any interest in that, but it is important that that is clearly on the record.

If the owner of the pipeline gives notice of an objection, the owner must notify the minister of the objection. So, that is saying, if there is a problem, at least some broader understanding and notification of the problem or perceived problem must be given to the government, essentially, so it is not just the two people directly involved. The minister may mediate between the parties in order to arrive at mutually satisfactory terms under which the landowner or other party may carry out the proposed work. So, the minister may choose to get involved or may just leave it up to the parties.

If the minister decides to attempt mediation, the minister must give the involved parties notice of his or her decision within 21 days of receipt of the notice. If the minister does not give notice after 21 days, it will be taken that the minister has decided against personally attempting to settle the dispute, and let us hope that that would be because the minister believes that it would be very easy to have the issue resolved between the two key parties. If the dispute is not successfully resolved by the minister or the minister does not attempt mediation, the landowner or other party may apply to the Warden’s Court for resolution.

That is really just a quick summary of what we are talking about here, and it all seems pretty straightforward to me. This is, of course, so that the pipeline, which carries gas, is as safe as possible. It makes great sense. You would not want people without permission or knowledge coming and doing any sort of work, particularly deeper drilling or excavating pits or wells or any of the other issues that I mentioned before, without at the very least the pipeline owner/operator knowing about it. This gives the pipeline owner/operator the opportunity to actually give permission and potentially just adjust the work into sort of, ‘We’re not quite comfortable with exactly what you have planned, but if you were to change your work plan this way or that way, that would be fine with us.’

An area that I would like to receive some clarification from the minister on when he has the opportunity to speak shortly is just with regard to exactly who has to seek the permission, because largely the bill talks about the landowner. If we think about a pipeline running through a farm, for example—freehold land—and that farmer wants to do some quite sensible work, it seems logical, of course, that the farmer would go and seek that permission, or if it was through a station, as much of this pipeline is in the north, that it would be the station lessee. But, minister, I would like some clarification on whether at different times it would be the landowner/lessee or licensee of the land versus the actual operator.

I am thinking specifically with regard to railway lines; so, where railway lines might intersect. For example, where national Highway 1 might intersect the pipeline. As I understand it, in those situations, typically but not necessarily, the state government would still be the landowner. So, if you think about a tract of land that might be leased long term to an operator, such as Genesee & Wyoming Australia, would it actually be Genesee & Wyoming Australia as the lessee of that land that needs to seek the permission? Would it be the state government talking to itself because it is the landowner? Would it be potentially ARTC as a company that might be involved in the operation, or if they were to bring in a significant contractor to do a significant piece of work, would it be the contractor who would be required to seek the permission?

There are multiple layers of involvement in the work that takes place, and it may not even be possible, of course, to say definitively how it works, but even just to provide some guidelines to operators with regard to how they would go about trying to deal with that sort of situation.

The other question that I have for the minister, which I am pretty sure could be dealt with easily and straightforwardly but which I would love on the record, relates to emergency situations. Say you happen to have a train or a road train accident right where the railway line or the road happens to intersect and some emergency work is necessary, I am sure that the government would not expect written permission, 14 days’ notice, etc. I am sure there would be an expedient way in which those sorts of issues could be dealt with, but I would be grateful if the minister would just put on to the record how he would expect the government and subsequent governments would deal with that sort of thing.

You imagine a train derailment. Bad luck if it happens to be right where the railway crosses the pipeline, there would not be clearly time for the process that is required under this bill to be dealt with, but there would be a very common-sense approach, I am sure, and I would be grateful for the minister to put that on to the record.

Let me close by saying that, clearly, this is so that we do not have the very significant type of disruption that the communities of Port Pirie and Whyalla experienced recently when the gas pipeline was—and it is still to be discovered—either damaged or not maintained to a significant standard, or whether, perhaps, there was a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, that might have impacted upon it. That information I do not believe has been made public yet. That is not actually the issue, this is about protecting gas supplies both with regard to immediate safety in the vicinity of a potential breach of the pipeline and also with regard to the supply of the gas, because, of course, that would create significant disruption.

As I say, the opposition supports this bill. We think that it is quite straightforward, but I would be grateful if the minister could just respond with some guidelines, perhaps, with regard to who would actually have the technical obligation to seek the permission in the situations where there are multiple layers of involvement—so, landowner, land lessee or significant contractor doing the work, and then, of course, the emergency services situation as well. Thank you.

Third Reading

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: There is an issue I am happy to have resolved between the houses. Just to put it on the record again, I did not hear the minister address it and I am sure it was accidental. When there are multiple layers of ownership and involvement—an owner, a lessee, a licensee, a significant contractor who will take full responsibility for all the work on behalf of somebody else—who really needs to seek the permission?

There is another section I will touch on briefly just to clarify my question, and the minister can address this in his third reading contribution or between the houses. There are situations where there could have been an accident—and it could be a train derailment, or it could be a car or a truck accident—where it is physically nowhere near the depth of the pipeline but where there are many other prescribed works like tree planting, or even just storing machinery, plants, equipment or materials are prescribed works. Technically, even just parking a vehicle as part of an accident recovery process would be a prescribed work requiring permission under the bill.

For the minister’s benefit, it is really not necessarily something that goes to a depth that is anywhere near the pipeline, but the bill does require that to do that sort of work, to even bring a piece of equipment onto the land surface within the easement to jack up or drag off a vehicle that has been an accident, would technically require permission to be given. I am just seeking some clarification that that would be expedited in a common-sense way.

Bill read a third time and passed.