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Anti-coal activists dob in premature $896M mine expansion

Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Conservation Foundation

Anti-mining whistleblowers will further delay a coal producer’s $896 million project in southern Queensland’s Darling Downs region.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has complained to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley that New Hope Group (NHG) might be unlawfully operating outside its boundaries at the New Acland Coal Mine, 53km northwest of Toowoomba.

Ley responded by ordering the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to investigate the proponent for any potential breach of its environmental authority. The department soon discovered that the allegation was already examined by the State Department of Environment and Science dating back to 2018.

‘Flouting’ law

ACF claims NHG did not wait for the High Court of Australia to decide whether to allow the proposed New Acland Coal Expansion before building the 1km-long West Pit that sits beyond the mine boundary.

“It appears that parent company New Hope is pretty flagrantly flouting Australian environmental law,” ACF campaigner Christian Slattery told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

However, the proponent revealed this is not the case as it already had federal approval to proceed with the work.

“Mining of West Pit was considered in 2016 in the Land Court where the … Department of Environment and Science confirmed that the excavation of West Pit was not in breach of New Acland Coal’s environmental authority,” an NHG spokesman said according to AAP.

“Over the past three years we have fought and won a series of legal battles against this group. Their latest appeal does not challenge findings on groundwater or any other environmental issue that is relevant to any decision being made by government. It is clear they want nothing more than to delay final decisions on stage three.”

‘Hundreds’ of jobseekers ignored

Mining chiefs recently met with State Government representatives to seek a commitment to the expansion, which is promised to create more than 450 much-needed jobs during the Chinese coronavirus downturn.

However, state officials refused to deliver on earlier promises to grant all remaining approvals and will instead wait for the outcome of Oakey Coal Action Alliance’s latest High Court appeal to stop the mine expansion.

This frustrated the proponent, which has already retrenched more than 100 workers due to the 12-year wait for final approval.

“Premier [Annastacia] Palaszczuk has said time after time that all jobs were precious and that regional jobs mattered to her,” New Hope chief operations officer Andrew Boyd said in a public statement.

“It is unfathomable that the premier is willing not only to ignore the hundreds looking for work but also the 150 workers currently at the mine who will be out of work if the project is not approved soon.”

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This hesitation came despite the recent passage of a Senate motion that urged the State Government to approve the expansion.

“The motion was moved by Queensland Liberal and National senators and was passed, notably, with the support of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation,” Boyd said.

“The motion called for the government to put an end to the cycle of ‘lawfare’ being conducted by a couple of objectors with no real connection to or support from the local community.”