Today’s decision by Queensland’s Environment and Science Department to reject New Acland’s environmental authority amendment for the Stage 3 coal expansion is not just a win for Acland farmers, but a win for all farming communities, a win for trust in government and a win for proper legal process in our state.
Statement from Environmental Defenders Qld CEO and Solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg
In May 2017, Queensland’s Land Court recommended Stage 3 be refused following a 99-day public hearing including our client Oakey Coal Action Alliance - a group of 60 local landholders and townspeople. It was one of the largest environmental public interest cases in Australian history - and the first time the Land Court had recommended the outright refusal of a mining project following a contested public hearing in its’ 120-year-history.
The Land Court - an independent legal umpire - thoroughly considered all of the costs and benefits of this proposed coal expansion. It gave a clear and unequivocal recommendation that this mine should not proceed primarily due to impacts on groundwater and good quality Darling Downs agricultural land, which is in the top 1.5 per cent in the State.
Today’s decision by the Environment Department was a test for both our newly re-elected Government and for the Department - whether it would follow independent and transparent Court analysis of evidence, or be persuaded by New Acland Coal’s new groundwater work, which the Government allowed to be provided in a last-minute submissions process behind closed doors. The Government has done right by the community today, and we congratulate it for making the fair and correct decision.
However, despite today’s decision, the strain of uncertainty on our clients and other community objectors continues. New Acland Coal has applied for judicial review of the Land Court’s decision, which could in turn invalidate the Department’s decision. The review hearing is scheduled for 19 March this year, continuing a decade of uncertainty for the Acland community. The Mines Minister must also still make his decision about whether or not to grant the required mining leases.
As community lawyers for the environment, we want communities like Acland, and farmers like Noel Wieck and his family who run a 100-year-old award-winning dairy, to have trust in the legal process and environmental department. We also believe they deserve a fair go. We strongly believe the Land Court’s powers should be strengthened to have the final say on decisions of environmental authorities for proposed mining projects - not the current recommendations the government must only consider when making the final decision.
If the Land Court had this power, the law would have already greatly reduced the uncertainty for this 150-year-old farming community.
We’re urgently calling on your help again. If you believe in the protection of precious groundwater and agricultural land, please make a donation today to give us the best chance of upholding this historic win for the Acland community.