The Queensland Land Court has begun hearing objections to the expansion of New Hope Coal's Acland Stage 3 coalmine in the Darling Downs, one of Australia's richest agricultural and pastoral regions.
There are 27 objectors to the mining lease applications and 35 objectors to the draft Environmental Authority.
The objectors include Oakey Coal Action Alliance, Darling Downs Environment Council, Clean Air Queensland and many local farmers concerned about the impact the coalmine expansion will have on the sustainability of their operations.
In its dying days, the Campbell Newman government reversed its opposition to the mine and passed laws preventing Land Court challenges to mines on environmental grounds.
Last December, the Queensland Coordinator-General gave approval for Stage 3 of the Acland mine. This became an issue in the February election in which the Newman government was defeated.
In the Memorandum of Understanding between Independent MP Peter Wellington and Labor, which permitted Labor to form a minority government, Labor committed to:
· Reintroduce the $1000 donation disclosure threshold, and establish an inquiry into political donations, including the $1 million from New Hope Coal's parent company to the LNP
· Reinstate the right of communities, residents and individuals to object to and appeal against mining developments
· Scrutinise the Acland mining approval processes, including a review of the Coordinator-General's approval.
The Palaszczuk Labor government did reinstate third party objections, but it did not review the previous Coordinator-General's approval or establish an inquiry into the potential for corruption involving political donations. The government granted draft environmental authority to the New Hope application on August 31.
A week before the authority was granted, the Lock the Gate Alliance lodged a complaint with Queensland's Crime and Corruption Commission alleging the Newman government had reversed its opposition to the Acland mine expansion during the period in which New Hope Coal and its parent made the donations.
Speaker of the Queensland Parliament Peter Wellington told the ABC he also wanted the New Hope donations investigated. "One of the issues I raised with [Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk] was to look at the possible connection between significant donations and particular decisions,” he said.
"One of the issues here is following the money trail. It's important to know that there's been no inappropriate influence exerted."
Land Court hearings were held in Dalby on November 4 and continue in Brisbane. Presentation of evidence in the case could take up to 10 weeks.
Oakey Coal Action Alliance president Frank Ashman said the main impacts were about drawdown of water and the destruction of prime agricultural land.
"We've got grass, we've got cattle, but without water coming out of the ground we can't provide the cattle with water,” he said.
"The extraordinary number of objectors who have been prepared to stand up and challenge the Acland coalmine expansion in the Land Court shows the scale of community opposition to it.
"Our case will be that the expansion should not proceed because of the irreversible impacts it will have on important farming land, groundwater resources and the wellbeing of local communities.
"We will also argue that the costs of this expansion to Queensland far outweigh any benefits, especially given that the mine proponent is operating under an old title system which means it pays a large proportion of royalties to itself.”
Paul King of the Darling Downs Environment Council, representing some of the objectors, said the outcome of the case would determine if coalmining would continue to expand into agricultural land in Queensland.