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Court backs Qld coal mine expansion

Farmers trying to stop a Queensland coal project have vowed to continue their 14-year fight after a court ruling in favour of expanding the controversial New Acland mine.

Land Court of Queensland on Friday recommended the expansion of the Darling Downs mine, west of Brisbane, subject to conditions including noise and dust controls.

In what is considered to be the state’s longest running mine dispute, New Hope Group has been trying to expand the open-cut coal project for more than a decade.

Farmers and community members with the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) objected, citing air quality, dust, noise and climate change issues plus soil and water impacts.

The Queensland government will take the recommendation into account when it decides whether to grant or reject the mining application.

“We’ve always said we will let the legal process finish before any decision was made,” Resources Minister Scott Stewart said.

“As a government, we will now thoroughly consider the recommendation.”

Land Court member Peta Stilgoe said despite “respecting and understanding” the OCAA’s position, the expansion should go ahead because the company had addressed noise and air quality concerns.

“This is an excellent result,” New Acland Mine general manager Dave O’Dwyer said.

“We will continue to work closely with the relevant Queensland government departments to achieve these approvals.”

But the OCAA have called for the state government to not grant the mining approvals, saying the court had acknowledged the project’s noise and dust impact.

“The Land Court judgment today confirmed that the local community has been put through hell by New Hope coal through excessive noise and dust from the mine ruining their lives,” OCAA secretary Paul King said.

“This should be enough for the Queensland government to call it a day, and prevent this dangerous, unwanted project from re-opening.”

The New Acland site exhausted its last supply of coal in late November, with almost 300 workers made redundant from the mine since 2019.

Federal Resources and Water Minister Keith Pitt said “common sense had finally prevailed” after the Land Court recommendation.

“The New Acland project has been subject to continuous lawfare and activist opposition for well over a decade,” he said.

“The premier now must act immediately to ensure that the court’s recommendations are put in place and the New Acland project is approved.”

In February, the High Court ordered the matter be returned to the Land Court for a new hearing.

That followed a five-year legal battle that included a 100-day hearing in the Land Court – the longest in its history – and actions in both Queensland’s Supreme and Appeal courts.

The OCAA said the mine’s proposed expansion was originally refused on groundwater impact grounds in the 2017 Land Court hearing.

However, the OCAA claimed the latest Land Court case was limited by law changes made by the Palaszczuk government that ensured the project’s groundwater impact could not be considered.

OCAA’s representative Environmental Defenders Office said they would discuss “further legal options” with their clients.

But they said the Land Court’s demand for noise and dust controls was some consolation.

“Our client is understandably disappointed that the project was not refused outright,” the EDO said.

“(But) these hard-won added protections will go some way to safeguarding the community from the impacts of this mine if it does go ahead.”

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