Major hurdle cleared on New Acland mine expansion
THE planned expansion of the New Acland Coal Mine has taken another step closer to approval, after the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled the project did not need to return to the Land Court.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice Walter Sofronoff, Judge of Appeal Justice Anthe Philippides and Judge of the Trial Division Justice Martin Burns all rejected an appeal from Oakey Coal Action Alliance against a judicial review of the expansion's original land court decision.
It is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle against the mine's expansion by farmers and anti-coal activists, who have concerns over groundwater security and the livelihoods of several properties.
New Acland Coal, and its parent company New Hope Group, now only need approval from Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham for its mining lease and associated water licence to go ahead.
The ruling upheld findings from Justice Helen Bowskill's 2018 judicial review of the original 2017 land court decision by Paul Smith, which Justice Bowskill concluded had been "affected by apprehended bias".
The court also ruled there was no need to return to the Land Court again, as requested by the OCAA, because of an order made by the Land Court president Fleur Kingham last year finding in favour of New Acland.
"Although (OCAA) applied in the Land Court for the re-hearing to be adjourned, that application was refused," the ruling said.
"It (is not) open for this court in this appeal to interfere with the orders made by President
Kingham in determining the dispute between the parties.
"Those are valid orders of the Land Court and, subject to being set aside on appeal, they bind the parties. There has been no such appeal.
"In summary, setting aside the orders for re-hearing would accomplish nothing."
The Court of Appeals also accepted the grant of the project's environmental authority should stand.
New Hope welcomed the decision in an ASX statement, calling on Minister Lynham to approve the expansion promptly.
"This is good news for the company and the local community in which the project is located," it said.
"The company now calls on the Queensland Government to immediately grant the required mining leases, associated water licence and approval for the continued use of the Jondaryan loadout facility.
"New Hope remains committed to delivering the project and will actively work with the relevant government departments to immediately progress the approvals."
OCAA secretary Paul King called the decision "bad news for farmers", pushing for the government to knock back the approval.
"There is still a massive question mark about groundwater impacts to be considered in relation to this mine," he said.
"Farmers can't afford to see groundwater drained away and Queensland can't afford to lose some of the best farmland in the state.
"The mine still doesn't have an associated water licence or planning interest approvals, and we don't believe they should be granted either given the severe impacts it will cause.
"We're also calling on the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to ensure that no final decisions are made on the project while it is being investigated by the Department of Environment and Science in relation to allegations of illegal mining at stage two."
Minister Lynham's office said the State Government was considering the decision from the Court of Appeals.