Acland mine faces growing opposition

Issue 
Opponents of the Acland mine expansion say it will worsen air quality and destroy prime agricultural land.

Queensland’s environment department has given conditional approval for the controversial expansion of the Acland coalmine. But questions about the link between political donations to the former LNP government and their support for the project remain unanswered.

In December last year the Queensland coordinator-general approved Stage 3 of New Hope Coal’s Acland coalmine, despite the project requiring the “clearing of eight endangered and of-concern regional ecosystems” including koala habitat, issues regarded as “matters of state environmental significance”.

Its approval became an issue in the February election defeated the Newman LNP government. Questions were raised about why the Newman government reversed its position from opposition to the project in 2012 to supporting its expansion last year.

On August 25, Lock the Gate announced it had lodged a complaint with the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) in relation to about $1 million of political donations to the Liberal Party made by New Hope Coal.

The group’s president, Drew Hutton, said the complaint should be fully investigated before a decision is made on the environment authority for Acland Stage 3.

“There is a cloud hanging over this project and the community cannot have any confidence that it has been approved on its merits until a thorough inquiry has been completed,” he said.

“We're calling for the decision on the Environmental Authority to be delayed until the CCC has fully investigated the matter.”

Approval of Stage 3 would rise the output of the mine from 4.8 million tonnes to 7.5 million tonnes. Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said: “Without approval for Stage 3 of New Acland, the mine will run out of coal in 2017–18 and [the jobs of 460 people] will be lost.”

But opponents of the mine claim the expansion will worsen air quality, destroy nearly 1400 hectares of prime cropping land and cause groundwater to drop by almost 50 metres in some places.

On August 30, the ABC obtained a copy of the draft Environmental Authority, which sets out the conditions under which the mine should go ahead.

Tanya Plant, a local farmer who lives close to the existing mine, said the Environmental Authority had failed to follow key conditions imposed by the Coordinator-General when it was approved last December.

“The draft environmental authority (EA) does not limit their night-time operation and it doesn't seem to actually require any monitoring of noise to ensure that these levels aren't being breached,” she said.

“It has been acknowledged that there will be substantial drawdown of groundwater and this is likely to impact on 357 registered bores, as well as other water users. That drawdown will occur for at least 300 years after the end of the mining operation.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced an inquiry into donations to the political parties on September 1 in line with an agreement with Independent Peter Wellington that enabled the state Australian Labour Party to form a minority government. It will investigate donations to the LNP and projects approved by the previous Newman government.

She promised that any potential, or even perceived, conflicts of interest involving the former LNP government will be thoroughly scrutinised. The inquiry would also look at donations to Labor.

Conditional approval has now been given for the Acland stage 3 expansion. But the community campaign in opposition is intensifying as is the demand that the Palaszczuk government make good on its election promises.