The Environmental Defenders Office is heading to the High Court on behalf of farmers seeking a fair hearing in their battle to protect their prime agricultural land from devastating coal mining.
The Oakey Coal Action Alliance, from Queensland’s Darling Downs, are fighting to save their groundwater and protect high-quality farmland from the massive Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland Coal mine.
The community has been fighting this mine through the courts for many years. However, a recent Court of Appeal ruling that the original case was unfair has cast doubt over the validity of subsequent decisions.
In december 2019, we are asking for special leave to appeal to the High Court to ensure the Acland community gets a fair hearing on the future of their community and their way of life.
Acland is under threat
The community in and around Acland has been fighting for more than a decade to protect their land and their way of life from New Acland Coal’s mine.
The revised Stage 3 mine would completely surround the town of Acland and impact neighboring farms, which are situated on land which is among the best 1.5% of agricultural land in Queensland.
In 2017, the Land Court recommended refusal of the mine due to groundwater, noise and intergenerational equity impacts. New Acland Coal appealed and succeeded in excluding groundwater considerations, but failed to show the decision was affected by apprehended bias.
OCAA appealed the decision of the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal, and themine cross-appealed arguing the original decision was affected by apprehended bias. The cross appeal was successful with the Court of Appeal finding that the Land Court hearing “failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness”.
Usually a finding of apprehended bias would invalidate the whole judgement. However, on November 1 2019, the Court of Appeal gave final orders in the case and chose not to set aside the original decision.
This throws into doubt a Land Court re-hearing of the noise arguments in the case, which was largely bound by the findings of the original Land Court decision – the judgement that has been found to be unfair.
To add to the confusion, New Acland Coal had already conceded that pursuing the apprehended bias claim was the ‘nuclear’ option which, if successful, would require a new Land Court hearing. The Court of Appeal gave NAC the opportunity to withdraw that position after articulating precisely what the position would be if they pressed the argument on apprehended bias and it was successful. .
The Environmental Defenders Office continues to represent the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA), a group of farmers and residents who have spent more than a decade standing up to New Acland Coal and its expansion plans.
We’re applying for special leave to appeal to the High Court on their behalf, so that they can have clarity around the decision which has profound impacts on their homes and livelihoods and ensure they can have their day in court in a hearing that’s not overshadowed by claims of bias and unfairness.