The Queensland Land Court has come down against the planned $900 million Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland coal mine on the Darling Downs.
In a judgement today the court recommended that the Mining Leases and Environmental Authority amendment for Stage 3 not be granted.
The decision follows one of the largest environmental cases in Australian history, with community objectors challenging the mine expansion on grounds including threats to water, air quality and farming businesses.
Proponent New Hope Group said it was reviewing the recommendation to determine options available to it in order to secure approval of the project.
“The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines and the Chief Executive of the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection are the final decision-makers,” the company said in a statement today.
“They will consider all relevant matters in making their decisions regarding the grant of the Mining Leases and Environmental Authority amendment. These approvals and an Associated Water Licence will be required for the project to proceed.”
The New Acland mine has workforce of 782 employees and contractors. New Hope said the approval of the Stage 3 operation would provide employment stability for many years to come and that it remained committed to delivering the project.
Farmer Paul King from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance was among the objectors in the case.
“This is an incredibly important outcome for farmers and communities on the Darling Downs and it vindicates our long struggle to protect our district from this risky coal mining expansion,” Mr King said.
“By recommending against the Acland Stage 3 mine the Land Court has recognised that the impact on our water supplies, our farm businesses and the health of our families are too severe.”
Mr King said the Stage 3 expansion had already been rejected once by the Newman LNP government in 2012 and that Queensland Labor had made an election commitment for an independent review of the impacts of the revised Stage 3 proposal on the local community.
“We won’t rest until the Queensland Government rejects this mine and puts in place long-term protections for our agriculturally rich region.” he said.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the QRC was very disappointed by the Land Court decision to reject New Hope’s Stage 3 New Acland project.
“Given the rigorous government assessment processes the project has already passed, including examination by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee as part of the federal government’s approval earlier this year, the decision today by the Land Court is surprising,” he said.
“This project is vital to the Darling Downs and would create up to 260 construction jobs and ongoing direct employment of up to 435 jobs and indirectly 2300, worth about $12 billion in economic benefits over the life of the project.
“Such a significant amount of job losses will have devastating flow-on effects to such a small community and the surrounding businesses that rely on the mine.”
Mr Macfarlane said the New Acland Stage 3 project had been in limbo for 10 years, including spending the last 18 months in a Land Court battle spearheaded by the taxpayer-funded Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).
EDO Queensland chief executive officer Jo-Anne Bragg said their win highlighted the significance of the courts and community objection rights in holding government and projects accountable under the law and what could be achieved by members of the community who banded together to challenge mining companies.
“Without this case, the costs and benefits of this project would not have been scrutinised before the independent Land Court and evidence including faulty groundwater modelling, increased noise and dust risks and complaints, and over-inflated job figures, would not have been exposed,” she said
“All eyes now turn to the Mines Minister Lynham as well as the Department of Environment and Minister Miles as to whether they will respect the decision of this independent court, which has thoroughly reviewed the evidence and considered submissions from all sides.”
A copy of the land court decision can be viewed here.