A sleeper issue in the recent Queensland election was the inaction by mines minister Anthony Lynham on the Land Court’s ruling of May 31 to reject the application by New Hope Coal for the third stage in the expansion of the Acland coalmine, known as Acland Stage 3, in the agriculturally rich Darling Downs.
Acland Stage 3 had been a key issue in the 2015 election, along with the spectre of the corrupting influence of political donations. In December, 2014, the Queensland Coordinator-General gave approval for Stage 3 but ministerial approval was not possible before the State election.
The Stage 3 expansion had already been rejected once by the Campbell Newman LNP government in 2012, which said “it was inappropriate to expand the mine in the State’s southern food bowl”. In its dying days, the Newman government reversed its opposition to the mine and passed laws preventing Land Court challenges to mines on environmental grounds. It was revealed by the ABC that New Hope and its parent company had donated $700,000 to the Liberal Party over a three-year period.
In 2015, Labor formed a minority government with the support of Independent MP Peter Wellington on the basis that Labor committed to reintroduce the $1000 donation disclosure threshold, and establish an inquiry into political donations; reinstate the right to object to and appeal against mining developments; and scrutinise the Acland mining approval processes, including a review of the Coordinator-General's approval.
The 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 in August, 2015.
In October, 2015, opponents of Acland 3 launched a historic environmental legal challenge in the Land Court. In May the court ruled that the application for a mining license should be rejected by the minister. New Hope applied for a judicial review, which is due in March. However this does not stop the minister from rejecting the application now. Ministerial approval was given for Adani’s Carmichael mine application while court decisions were pending.
The delay in acting on the Land Court’s ruling gives oxygen to New Hope’s campaign. Its media distortions and fear campaign directed at the community have put pressure on local residents and farmers who make up the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, which has responded by hosting community forums explaining the issues raised in the Land Court and the reasoning behind the court’s decision.