Coal battle: Bid to squash land court decision rejected
THE mines minister is "on notice” after the latest court decision about a contentious coal mine expansion.
The proposed New Acland expansion, near Oakey, has fired up debate and legal battles.
On one hand, the miner argued its fortunes, and those of workers, could be in peril if the expansion was not allowed.
On the other, Oakey Coal Action Alliance argued quality farmland and underground water could be jeopardised if expansion went ahead.
Earlier this year, Member Paul Smith of the Land Court urged the Queensland Government not to allow the expansion.
So the mining firm went to the Supreme Court, seeking an order to suspend Member Smith's decision.
But in a judgment published on Tuesday, the Supreme Court was not persuaded it should suspend Member Smith's decision.
Justice Peter Applegarth said the ultimate decision-makers, mines minister Anthony Lynham and the administering authority, were on notice that New Acland could still challenge future decisions on the expansion.
In May, despite saying the mine would have economic benefits, and despite dismissing environmental concerns, Member Smith did not recommend expansion.
In July, Dr Lynham told a hearing in Parliament he would not rule out making a decision on the expansion before a legal review was completed.
In the new decision, Justice Applegarth said New Acland initially wanted a broad order which would have effectively stopped ministers from making certain decisions.
He said New Acland was worried that if Member Smith's decision was not suspended, then future decisions from Dr Lynham or the authority might not be "open to effective challenge”.
The judge said Member Smith's recommendation was not something Dr Lynham had to follow, even if it was potentially "influential” on the ultimate decision.
Justice Applegarth said New Acland and its workers could face "significant consequences” if new mining leases were not granted and existing coal reserves depleted.
"That position places it and its workforce and the community which supports the continuation of mining in a state of uncertainty,” he said.
But OCAA said local farmers were distressed and struggling to make business plans as legal battles went on.
Justice Applegarth said it was "important to all concerned - in their personal interests and their economic interests - that they obtain a decision whether to grant or not grant the relevant applications as soon as reasonably possible”.
He added: "The relevant Minister and the administering authority are on notice that, if NAC is subject to certain decisions which are adverse to it, then it reserves its right to challenge those decisions.”
Meanwhile, a judicial review into the Land Court decision is expected to be mentioned at Brisbane Supreme Court on November 28.