.Big win as Land Court puts water before coal; recommends against controversial New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion
31 May 2017
- Key findings in the historic decision (updated 7 JUNE 2017)
- 34-page summary decision (and full Queensland Land Court recommendation).
The Queensland Land Court has backed concerns raised by local farmers and recommended against the approval of the controversial New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion on the Darling Downs near Toowoomba.
The decision follows one of the largest environmental cases in Australian history* where approximately 40 community objectors (12 active in Court) challenged the expansion of New Hope’s New Acland coal mine by submitting evidence on threats to water, air quality and farming businesses.
Paul King from Oakey Coal Action Alliance, a group of more than 60 farmers and objector in the case, said: “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.
“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,” he said.
Mr King said the Stage 3 expansion had already been rejected once by the Newman LNP government in 2012 who stated that ‘it was inappropriate to expand the mine in the State’s southern food bowl’, but who later supported the expansion.
Queensland Labor had also made an election commitment for an independent review of the impacts of the revised Stage 3 proposal on the local community, he said.
“We’re calling on the Queensland Government to honour its commitment and implement the Land Court outcome in full by rejecting Acland Stage 3 outright and putting an end to a struggle that has hurt so many in our community,” Mr King said.
“OCAA’s members and other landholders have had their lives on hold dealing with this coal mine for 10, long years and now we need absolute certainty that the mine will not proceed.
“We won’t rest until the Queensland Government rejects this mine and puts in place long-term protections for our agriculturally rich region.”
CEO and Solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg from EDO Queensland, the legal representation for OCAA in the case, said: “After an historic battle by local farmers and landholders against this mining giant the independent Land Court has recommended refusal of the Stage 3 New Acland coal mine expansion.
“Today’s win highlights the significance of the courts and community objection rights in holding government and projects accountable under the law and what can be achieved by hardworking members of the community who band together against all odds to challenge deep-pocketed 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.
“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,” Ms Bragg said.
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* The Land Court case involved approximately 40 community objectors (12 active in Court); 27 expert witnesses (eight of which were called by objectors); 38 lay witnesses; 14 active parties; 99 hearing days; two site inspections; 1,892 exhibits; and 7,452 pages of court transcripts – making it one of the largest environmental public interest cases in Australian history.
New Hope wants to expand its existing open-cut New Acland Coal mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs and operate for an additional 12 years to 2029 (Stage 3). Community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance has been acting alongside 30 community objectors in challenging the project.
The Land Court heard evidence that the existing mine has caused extensive hardship, damaged community members’ physical and mental health and livelihoods and eroded the once-thriving and cohesive rural community. Objectors fear any further expansion would be an unsustainable blow to the community and the region. Read about the farmers and residents impacted.
The case began on 7 March 2016 and is one of the largest environmental public interest cases of its kind in Australian history. It ran until 5 October 2016 and was re-opened at New Hope’s request in April this year to submit further groundwater evidence. Startling evidence from the case further highlights that Queenslanders have an enormous amount to lose from the contentious expansion, with risks to water, health and farming businesses. See the rolling feed from the 99-day hearing.
Disturbing evidence to emerge from the case included:
- Faulty groundwater modelling: The case showed faulty and unreliable groundwater modelling, potentially placing farmers’ critical groundwater supplies at risk.
- Noise and dust risks and complaints: Evidence showed there was a high risk of the project exceeding air quality limits unless so-far unproven controls were in place. The Court heard the community’s complaints about coal dust and noise levels and requests for data have fallen effectively on deaf ears for the past decade, including more than 100 complaints to New Hope and 30 to the state environment department.
- Over-inflated job figures: The project’s original environmental impact statement stated the project would produce an average of 2,953 jobs per annum, yet in court this figure was reduced to 680 net jobs nationally.
- Limited royalties to QLD government: In Court it was revealed an estimated $500M in royalties from the expansion would flow to the coal company and a small number of property owners, instead of to the Queensland Government which would receive just 7% of this, severely limiting financial benefits from royalties to taxpayers.
It is two decisions of the Queensland Government, not the Land Court, that will now determine whether Stage 3 goes ahead. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection makes the final decision on the environmental authority amendment application, and Mines Minister Lynham decides the mining lease application. Both must consider the Court’s recommendation when making their decisions. New Hope would also require an associated water licence under the Water Act 2000 for the expansion. The Federal Government gave federal environmental approval for the expansion in December 2016.