Queensland’s Supreme Court has overturned a recommendation from the Land Court to scrap the expansion of the New Acland coal mine.
Justice Helen Bowskill has overturned a finding by Queensland’s Land Court that New Hope’s $900 million New Acland mine enlargement should not go ahead due to risks to groundwater in the region.
New Hope’s New Acland mine is located in the Darling Downs near Toowoomba.
Justice Bowskill has ruled that Land Court member Paul Smith did not have the authority to consider potential impact on groundwater. Mr Smith’s decision was made last May and is non-binding, though he found that while the mine would provide a significant economic benefit to the region and Australia, there was also a significant risk to surrounding landholders groundwater.
New Hope Corporation has spoken about this judgment, welcoming the decision of Justice Bowskill: “The Supreme Court found grounds for review have been established in the areas of groundwater, noise and intergenerational equity with the consequence that it would be appropriate to order the Land Court’s decision be set aside, and the matter referred back to the Land Court for further consideration.
“We remain committed to securing approval for this Project and in doing so being able to provide ongoing employment for the circa 700 jobs reliant on the Project.”
In her 122 page ruling, Justice Bowskill found that "The matter [should] be returned to the Land Court for further consideration on the basis that it was not within the court's jurisdiction to fully consider groundwater issues, and therefore not appropriate to base a recommendation for refusal on that issue.”
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane also spoke about the decision and the hope it provided for those who rely on the mine, which without the expansion will close in 2020.
"Without the expansion, the mine is due to cease operations in 2020 putting hundreds of people out of work and creating massive economic pain in Oakey, surrounding areas and Toowoomba," Mr Macfarlane said.
"With the expansion, the mine will be able to produce 7.5 million tonnes of coal per annum for 12 years, providing more jobs, more economic opportunity and more revenue for every tier of government."
However, the decision has come as a blow to the 60 farmers who were being represented by the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, who have been fighting the expansion. The alliance’s spokesperson Paul King has issued a statement regarding the decision.
"We're extremely concerned that this decision has placed into question the ability of the Land Court to consider groundwater issues," he said.
"We are, however, pleased that the Supreme Court did confirm that the original Land Court decision was made fairly and that there had been no bias."