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Farmers who delayed $896M coal project forced one of their own into deeper debt

Oakey Coal Action Alliance farmers
Oakey Coal Action Alliance farmers

Agriculture workers who used legal avenues to postpone an $896 million coal expansion in Queensland’s Darling Downs have unwittingly harmed a fellow farmer.

The Oakey Coal Action Alliance has used both the Land Court and Court of Appeal to force New Hope Group to shelve its New Acland Coal Expansion, 53 km northwest of Toowoomba.

Farmer impacted by layoffs

However, farmers who objected to the project did not realise drought stricken farmer Dave Anderson was one of the 150 workers who lost their jobs at the mine and will have no income.

The 63-year-old revealed he walked off his farm to start a heavy machinery operator role at the mine because he was going into debt from the continuing Queensland drought, which killed more than 500,000 stressed cattle across the state.

High unemployment forces him out

Since the expansion has not been approved after 12 years of applications and there is high unemployment in southern Queensland, Anderson is unable to repay his debts and may have to leave the Darling Downs to find work elsewhere.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Anderson told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

Praying for a miracle

He is hoping for a miracle to approve the expansion so he can get his old job back.

“Maybe they can reverse the redundancies and we can get our jobs back,” he said.

He and 27 workers from his roster of 39 have received six-weeks’ notice, and workplace morale has hit rock bottom at the mine.

“We’re gutted and very disappointed, and still in shock actually,” he said. “All along, we thought things would work out okay.”

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‘Extremely tough’

The proponent is continuing to hold one-on-one meetings with mine operator staff to help them through the redundancies that have taken a “huge toll” in the past 24 hours and been “extremely tough, particularly for the affected workers and their families”.

“Specialists, including counsellors have been onsite for the past 24 hours, supporting the entire workforce through this extremely difficult time,” New Acland general manager Dave O’Dwyer said. “We will also be hosting a series of outplacement sessions for affected workers to help them rebuild.”

Minister won’t budge

Although Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan previously suggested there was nothing stopping the Queensland Government from approving the project, State Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham is refusing to make a decision until the Land Court once again hears farmer objections to the expansion.

The inaction comes despite the Supreme Court recently dismissing an earlier judgment from the Land Court on the basis it was biased to rule in favour of the alliance against approving the expansion due to the potential impact on groundwater supplies.

“When considering an objection to the grant of a mining lease or an objection to an amendment to an environmental authority for mining activities, under the legislative regime that applied to Acland’s applications, the Land Court has no jurisdiction to consider or to base its recommendations upon the potential impacts of the mining operations upon groundwater,” the final judgment said. “The issue of groundwater was, therefore, irrelevant to a consideration by the Land Court of the principles of intergenerational equity.”

There may be some hope for Anderson and other farmers who work for the mine as proponent has indicated it would keep pursuing the project.

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