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Mining Minister’s comments on Land Court 'slap in the face'

09 July, 2016

Minister Lynham’s comments, claiming that ‘in Australia we have a lot of the use of the judiciary simply because they can’ [sic] is a slap in the face to landholders like those in the Land Court right now trying to have their concerns heard with respect to the Acland coal expansion project.

EDO Qld public interest lawyers are deeply concerned by reports in the Courier Mail on Friday 8 July 2016 of the statements by Minister Lynham with respect to the Land Court.

EDO Qld CEO Jo Bragg says: ‘We assume the Minister has been misquoted, as previously he has been fully supportive of community objection rights; in fact, this government has reinstated them after those rights were taken away under the previous government.

"Minister Lynham’s comments, claiming that ‘in Australia we have a lot of the use of the judiciary simply because they can’ [sic] would be a slap in the face to landholders like those in the Land Court right now who are trying to have their concerns properly heard with respect to the Acland Stage 3 Coal expansion project.

"These landholders would be  directly affected by this project and have legitimate concerns around the potentially serious impact of this expansion project on their rural businesses and health. The Court has heard a history of inadequate responses by New Acland to over 100 landholders complaints about dust and other problems from the existing mine.

"Through the Land Court objection hearing process for Acland Stage 3, serious issues have been debated about the groundwater, noise and air quality impact modelling that show the incompleteness of the  earlier Coordinator-General’s assessment.

"The case has exposed that once again, like for the Adani Carmichael coal mine, jobs figures have been grossly overstated by a mining company. New Acland’s own economist, Dr Jerome Fahrer agreed in Court the correct jobs figures for the Acland Stage 3 expansion were not 2,953 as stated in the Environmental Impact Statement, but 680 net jobs.

"EDO Qld lawyers agree that its important to improve the Land Court process. The Minister has not replied to our recent letter making suggestions for improvement. We are keen to meet with the Attorney-General and Minister Lynham to discuss this matter. We say the Court and parties are doing an extraordinary job on the Acland case to hear complex matters on an accelerated timetable, including sitting late into the night.

"For Acland Stage 3, the timeframe of the Land Court objection hearing process needs to be viewed in context of the need to properly assess this coal mine and to make the correct decision on whether or not it should be approved.’

"The assessment process started in 2007 for Acland Stage 3, and the Coordinator-General’s Report on the EIS was only given in 2014; so it is simply wrong to attribute delay to the Land Court process which only commenced in September 2015 and is proceeding at extraordinary speed for a trial of its size, at a great personal expense to all involved due to the expedited proceedings.

"Court hearings provide an opportunity for landholders and other concerned citizens, to have an independent arbiter, free from politics and financial influence, objectively consider the material put forward by the proponent, and the concerns of the community with respect to the project. This includes consideration of whether the project go ahead at all. This process also exists in the Planning and Environment Court for  different types of development applications.

"It is well-recognised that through the rigorous analysis provided in the third party Court process  better quality decisions are made around proposed projects, with a higher level of community confidence.

"It would be outrageous for the Mining Minister to propose a ‘tick-and-flick’ exercise for these high-risk, high impact projects, by proposing that a ‘quick yes’ could be given.

"We all should be proud we live in a country with a well-functioning democracy, whereby we have systems in place to help ensure high quality, robust independent scrutiny of major projects by the Court.

"We fully support Minister Lynham’s intention of providing greater protection for Queensland agricultural land, to ensure our ag land is not lost to relatively short-term mining projects."

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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