High Court decision helps Acland farmers against coal giant

Photo: Lock the Gate Alliance

The Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) has claimed victory after the High Court decided on February 3 to allow its appeal objecting to the expansion of the New Acland mine to be reheard in the Queensland Land Court.

The court also ordered that New Acland Coal (NAC) cover OCAA’s legal expenses. The decision reversed an earlier decision that OCAA pay about $736,000.

The OCAA, which includes more than 60 landholders, has opposed New Hope’s NAC mine expansion since 2007.

NAC’s main argument to bolster its Stage 3 expansion plan is the prospect of new jobs. But NAC sacked half its workforce even as Stage 2 was due to be completed last year and it does not have a plan for new jobs other than expanding the mine.

By contrast, the OCAA has a plan for coal workers to transition to renewables.

In 2012, the then Liberal National Queensland government rejected NAC’s expansion because of the threat it posed to agriculture. But it changed its mind before the January 2015 election and after a large donation by the mine’s owners.

In the lead-up to that election, Labor committed to investigate the approval process, but nothing came of this. Local residents challenged the approval for the Stage 3 extension in the Land Court.

In 2017, the Land Court recommended the minister reject the application, but it was instead sent it off to a judicial review.

New Hope appealed the decision in the Supreme Court, which then referred the matter back to a reconstituted Land Court.

In November 2018, the Land Court recommended the expansion be approved and in 2019 it was granted.

Further appeals were lodged, questioning both the 2018 Land Court decision and the 2017 Land Court decision.

Last year OCAA appealed to the High Court, arguing that the matter should have been reviewed without the constraints of the earlier 2017 decision that had been found to be affected by bias.

The February 3 decision affirmed its case. The Queensland Environment Defenders Office (QLD EDO), acting for OCCA, welcomed the decision.

QLD EDO spokesperson Sean Ryan said the OCAA and other objectors must be given access to “an independent decision unclouded by apprehensions of bias or unfairness”. He said they could now present evidence of the mine’s impacts on local farming, the state and climate change to a “fresh Land Court”.

OCAA secretary Paul King also welcomed the result saying the High Court’s decision is a “vindication that the Darling Downs is for farming – not coal mining”.

EDO CEO David Morris said: “If OCAA had given up the fight when things got tough there is no doubt this coal mine would be ploughing ahead. We are so proud to be able to provide the legal support communities need to defend the land against big coal and gas.”

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