To purchase this space contact Gordon

Trucks and loaders work inside the New Acland Mine West Pit, June 2020.
The Queensland Land Court has conditionally approved the controversial expansion of the New Acland coal mine on the Darling Downs.

Key points:

  • The Land Court says the New Acland expansion can go ahead, with conditions
  • New Hope Group says a number of steps are required before approvals are granted
  • Landholder groups say they’re disappointed with the decision but not surprised
The planned expansion has been the subject of legal battles for well over a decade, with a group comprising more than 60 local landholders opposing the project.

The mine’s owners, New Hope Group, said the conditional approval was an excellent result.

“There are still a number of steps required to obtain final project approval for stage three,” said the mine’s general manager Dave O’Dwyer.

“We will continue to work closely with the relevant Queensland Government departments to achieve these approvals.”

‘An existential fight’

Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) secretary Paul King said he believed the legal process had “severe limitations” as important issues like the impacts on groundwater were not considered.

“It would be wrong to say we’re not disappointed that the mine was not rejected,” he said.

“There was no consideration of groundwater or intergenerational equity and we think they’re deficiencies with the system. Everything should be considered.”

Mr King said the OCAA would continue its fight against the project, planning to make representations to Resources Minister Scott Stewart on intergenerational equity and seek stricter noise conditions from the Coordinator-General.

“It’s certainly not the end of the line,” Mr King said.

“The farmers involved in OCAA are fighting an existential fight.

Government approval

The Queensland government has long maintained it would only consider granting approvals for the mine once all legal processes were finished.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart has been contacted for comment.

Mining at the New Acland site stopped on November 26 after it exhausted its supply of coal.

More than 280 workers have been made redundant from the mine since 2019, with only 20 staff on the site now for care and maintenance.

New Hope Group said the final approval, if granted once conditions are met, would enable a restart of operations and more employment opportunities.

Long-running legal battle

New Hope Group first applied for approval for its stage-three expansion in 2007; since then, it has been stalled by legislative demands and protracted legal challenges.

The OCAA first lodged its legal challenge against the project in the Land Court in 2016.

The hearing lasted almost 100 days, becoming the longest in the court’s history.

In May 2017, Judge Paul Smith rejected the application for the mining lease and environmental approval on the grounds of inadequate groundwater modelling and its impact on farming land.

New Hope Group appealed against the decision in the Supreme Court, with the matter being sent back to the Land Court in May 2018 for a rehearing.

A new bill could affect the New Hope Group's planned expansion of the New Acland mine, near Oakey.
Production at the New Acland mine stopped in November, 2021.

Land Court President Fleur Kingham reheard the case and decided that if the miner could comply with amendments to noise limits, the environmental authority for the expansion could be approved.

The OCAA appealed against that decision and then New Hope cross-appealed.

These actions were both heard in the Court of Appeal, which dismissed OCAA’s case in November 2019 and allowed the New Hope cross-appeal, finding the first Land Court decision by Judge Smith had been affected by apprehended bias.

The OCAA then applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court to have its whole case reheard.

The High Court found in favour of the group earlier this year and ordered the case be reheard in the Queensland Land Court.