Three Queensland Supreme Court judges have decided to dismiss a legal bid from an anti-mining group to stop an $896 million coal mine expansion from proceeding in the Darling Downs.
Justices Anthe Philippides, Martin Burns, and Walter Sofronoff decided the Land Court of Queensland was biased when it ruled in favour of Oakey Coal Action Alliance against approving New Hope Group’s New Acland Coal 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.”
Court influenced by bias
The court further ruled in favour of the proponent on the matter of groundwater and that the original Land Court recommendation was influenced by bias.
“There were reasonable grounds upon which to apprehend bias but Acland had waived its right to complain and the Member’s reasons did not ‘re-enliven’ that apprehension,” the judgment said.
Judge missed holidays
The alliance questioned the presiding judges on their impartiality to which they snapped back that they had avoided lecturing at university, cancelled a family trip in 2016, and did not take any holidays to show no bias in handing down the final judgment.
“I got rid of that trip because of this case, I got rid of all leave last year because of this case, I have sat at night because of this case, as have the parties,” the judgment said.
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New Hope praised the positive outcome and now plans to wait for the court to make a final order before considering the next step for the project, which could save 150 workers who were expected to be retrenched due to the delayed approval process.
“New Hope remains committed to delivering the New Acland Stage 3 project in a timely manner to ensure continuity of operations and ongoing employment in the region,” the company said in a public statement.
Battle is not over
Alliance secretary Paul King conceded defeat on social media and vowed to contest New Hope at the Land Court.
“We lost on all counts but in the process of making that happen New Acland Coal turned over the table and knocked off all the pieces,” he said on Facebook. “We are now back to square one, the Court of Appeal has sent the entire Stage 3 back to the Land Court for a complete rehearing … we have won there before, we can do it again.”