The Land Court's decision to reject the proposed expansion of the New Acland coal mine highlights the need for good quality science and planning regulations that protect the interests of landholders and ensure agriculture can continue in the long term, according to rural lobby group, AgForce.
Community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance have been fighting to stop the mine from encroaching on their agricultural land, arguing it poses too great a risk to water, air quality and farming business.
Land Court member Paul Smith recommended on Wednesday that Mines Minister Anthony Lynham reject the New Hope's expansion and that its environmental authority application be refused.
Alliance member Paul King said the decision was a message that farmland on the Darling Downs was now safe.
"This is a victory for the people, and we fully expect the Queensland government to follow up on the recommendation and reject this mine expansion outright," Mr King said.
A spokesperson for New Hope said the company remains committed to delivering the New Acland Stage 3 project and will actively progress this project through the final stages of approval.
But AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said the Land Court's decision was based on significant concerns about groundwater impacts and shortcomings in the current modelling.
"Primary producers want up-front certainty that their access to water will be secure and will not be interrupted or impaired by mining or gas sector activities," he said.
Primary producers want up-front certainty that their access to water will be secure.
"This means having confidence that the risk to water assets are understood, that impacts are avoided in the first instance and that any residual impacts can be managed and 'made good'.
"There is no doubt that stage 3 of the New Acland coal mine, and indeed many resource projects, offer significant economic and employment opportunities for Queensland, but the potential benefits must be weighed against the potential risks.”
Environmental Defenders Office Queensland, who were the legal representatives for Oakey Coal Action Alliance in the case, have released a statement saying they are “overjoyed” for their clients.
“(The) win highlights the significance of the courts and community objection rights in holding government and projects accountable under the law,” the statement says.
“It proves what can be achieved by hardworking members of the community who band together against all odds to challenge deep-pocketed mining companies. Please know that we have not yet covered the costs of the case, which was one of the largest environmental cases in Australian history.”
The Queensland Resources Council released a statement saying the Council was “very disappointed” by the Land Court decision.
terrible news for New Acland, staff and the surrounding communities.— BBMiningClub (@BBMining) May 31, 2017
“Given the rigorous government assessment processes the project has already passed, including examination by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee as part of the federal government’s approval earlier this year, the decision today by the Land Court is surprising.
“This project is vital to the Darling Downs and would create up to 260 construction jobs and ongoing direct employment of up to 435 jobs and indirectly 2,300, worth about $12 billion in economic benefits over the life of the project.
“Such a significant amount of job losses will have devastating flow-on effects to such a small community and the surrounding businesses that rely on the mine.
“The New Acland Stage 3 Project has been in limbo for 10 years, including spending the last 18 months in the Land Court, spearheaded by the taxpayer-funded Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).”