Local farmers and community members joined representatives of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance and their legal team from the Environment Defenders Office (EDO) outside the Queensland Land Court on May 31.
They were celebrating a resounding victory in their case against the expansion of the New Acland coalmine in the rich farmlands of the Darling Downs.
Jo-Anne Bragg from EDO said: “Today’s win highlights the significance of the courts and community objection rights in holding government and projects accountable under the law. It proves what can be achieved by hardworking members of the community who band together against all odds to challenge deep-pocketed mining companies.”
The decision follows one of the largest environmental cases in Australian history. Beginning on March 7 last year, about 40 community objectors — 12 active in court — challenged the expansion of New Hope Coal’s New Acland coalmine by submitting evidence on threats to water, air quality and farming businesses.
“Without this case,” Bragg said, “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 over-inflated job figures, would not have been exposed.
“All eyes now turn to [Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Anthony] Lynham as well as the Department of Environment [and Heritage Protection] and [Minister for Environment Steven] 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.”
Paul King from Oakey Coal Action Alliance, a group of more than 60 farmers and objectors 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 coalmining 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.
King said the Stage 3 expansion had already been rejected once by the Newman LNP government in 2012, which said “it was inappropriate to expand the mine in the State’s southern food bowl”, but which 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.
EDO said: “It is two decisions of the Queensland government, not the Land Court, which 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.”
King 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.
“We won’t rest until the Queensland government rejects this mine and puts in place long-term protections for our agriculturally rich region.”