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Farmers back legal challenge to GVK Hancock’s Alpha Mine in Supreme Court

22 April 2015

Today GVK Hancock and conservation group Coast and Country will appear in the Supreme Court of Queensland as Coast and Country challenges the 2014 Land Court of Queensland decision on the huge Alpha Coal Project in western Central Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

The Supreme Court judicial review application, lodged by Coast and Country and supported by local farmers, will argue that the Land Court should have recommended the 30 million tonne-per year mine be rejected outright.

Central Queensland grazier Bruce Currie, who is not affiliated with Coast and Country but who supports the action and whose groundwater would be impacted by the mine, said: “The Land Court of Queensland decision was to reject this mine, or to put in place conditions to protect the groundwater”.

“The agricultural industry in this area absolutely depends on groundwater and the proposed Alpha coal mine is going to remove up to 176 billion litres of water over its lifetime, depleting the groundwater table and impacting family-run, sustainable farming businesses.”

“As graziers, we have to protect our groundwater because, without it, we lose our business, our homes and our future on the land,” Mr Currie said.

Matters of significance in the lead up to the judicial review include:

  • On 8 April 2014, the Land Court stated it was not in the public interest to approve the Alpha Coal Project given the unsatisfactory nature of the mine proponent’s evidence on groundwater impacts. The Land Court’s recommendation to the Queensland Government was for the mine to be either rejected outright or approved only with water conditions that observe the precautionary principle.
  • On 23 September 2014, the Queensland Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection granted an environmental authority for the mine, but Natural Resources and Mines Minister did not and has still not granted a mining lease.

Paola Cassoni, whose groundwater on Bimblebox Nature Refuge would be impacted by the mine, said: “The Queensland Government rode roughshod over graziers when it issued an environmental authority for this mine in September last year. It did so without considering the lawfulness of the Land Court decision and the impacts to our land,” local grazier said.

“We have already faced a low wet season this year, and if our groundwater goes because of these mines, our farms will be at risk.”

“What the Land Court ruling showed Queenslanders is that the Government progressed the approval process for the Alpha Coal Mine without adequate safeguards to protect our water resources,” Ms Cassoni said.

Legal representation for Coast and Country, Environmental Defenders Office Queensland, CEO and Solicitor Jo Bragg said: “The Alpha Coal Project is a prime example of the importance of public objection rights.

“Without the Alpha case before the Land Court, the serious impacts of the proposed mine on groundwater and the livelihoods of existing grazing businesses, which are dependent on water, would not have been exposed in 2013.

“Coast and Country are seeking judicial review of the Land Court’s decision. We seek to clarify that the Land Court cannot recommend both refusal and approval with conditions and that the Court should have recommended the mine be refused on the basis of its impacts on groundwater,” Ms Bragg said.

“We are also seeking a ruling that the environmental authority for the mine issued by the Minister is not valid as it depended on this flawed recommendation of the Land Court,” she said.

The Alpha Coal Project is a joint venture between Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal and Indian company GVK. The mine would be among Australia’s largest coal mines, with a mining lease area of over 60,000 hectares and mining footprint of around 24 kms long by 7 kms wide to be directly mined.