Justice Peter Applegarth of the Supreme Court rejected on June 23 the application by New Acland Coal (NAC) for judicial review of the Queensland Land Court’s decision, which recommended rejecting the Stage 3 expansion of the New Hope Mine. He said he was not satisfied irreparable harm would be caused to New Acland Coal and other third parties if a stay was not ordered.
Oakey Coal Action Alliance Inc (OCAA) has opposed the mine expansion since it was approved by the State Coordinator-General in December 2014. The group’s Paul King said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “In the end he found that the case was not strong enough to warrant stopping the Minister doing the job the people of Queensland expect him to do and make a decision on the (no) future of Stage 3.
“He found the landholders would be prejudiced if the decision could not be made. He found that New Acland Coal could look after themselves in the decision-making process.
“We have defended our historic win and cast grave doubt on the credibility of any further legal action by New Acland Coal and their masters. Mr Milner, Chairman of Brickworks, the ultimate controller of the New Hope Group, was present, but left the courtroom early. It was a Supreme victory.”
Outside court, King said the minister should stick to his previous commitment to deliver his final decision within six to eight weeks of the Land Court recommendation, which was handed down on May 31.
"Now the decision is free to be made, it should be made as soon as possible."
Landowners’ concerns about the use by NAC of legal stalling tactics to highjack the decision making process have been vindicated by the Supreme Court ruling. Dr Tanya Plant, who has fought the expansion of the New Acland Coal Mine for 18 months in court, said: "From my view, the court was a very thorough and fair process and analysed a whole heap of evidence and witnesses.”
NAC had alleged that the Land Court made numerous legal errors and had apprehended bias. But when Justice Applegarth challenged NAC's Queens Counsel, to find a legal basis for even one of the points of NAC's application for Judicial Review, he could not.
The Land Court case involved about 40 community objectors (12 active in court); 27 expert witnesses (eight of whom were called by objectors); 38 lay witnesses; 14 active parties; 99 hearing days; two site inspections; 1892 exhibits; and 7452 pages of court transcripts — making it one of the largest environmental public interest cases in Australian history.
During the case, evidence challenged various claims made by New Acland mine owners New Hope, exposing:
- Faulty groundwater modelling;
- Noise and dust risks and complaints: The court heard the community’s complaints about coal dust and noise levels and requests for data have fallen effectively on deaf ears for the past decade, including more than 100 complaints to New Hope and 30 to the state environment department;
- Inflated job figures: The project’s original environmental impact statement said the project would produce an average of 2953 jobs a year, yet in court this figure was reduced to 680 net jobs nationally;
- Limited royalties to the Queensland government: It was revealed about $500 million in royalties from the expansion would flow to the coal company and a small number of property owners. The Queensland Government would receive just 7% of royalties.
The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has launched an appeal to fund the response to NAC’s legal challenge. NAC has big mining money and will use every trick in the book to overturn the court recommendation.
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