Farmers and community members from Acland and surrounds have won a significant victory in the High Court, which today ordered a fresh Land Court hearing into the controversial coal mine expansion.
EDO client, the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA), has been in an epic legal battle to defend some of the best farming land in Queensland from New Acland Coal’s (NAC) stage 3 expansion of its thermal coal mine on the Darling Downs, in the state’s south east.
Proposals to expand the mine have had a tortuous history.
They were first rejected by the Newman LNP government in 2012 and a revised application was rejected by the Palaszczuk ALP government in 2018 following a recommendation of refusal by the Land Court in 2017.
The mining company appealed the 2017 Land Court recommendation to the Supreme Court which, in 2018, found parts of the recommendation to be in error and ordered the Land Court to rehear the case, but bound by most of the original findings from 2017.
In November 2018, a reconstituted Land Court recommended the project be approved and, in 2019, the environmental approval was granted.
Further appeals to the Court of Appeal in 2019 then found the 2017 Land Court decision to be affected by apprehended bias, but the Court did not order a fresh hearing.
The Court of Appeal decision caused doubts regarding the validity of the 2018 Land Court rehearing decision (and later environmental approval) which relied heavily on the 2017 Land Court decision.
OCAA appealed to the High Court in 2020 arguing that the matter should have been sent back for fresh hearing, unconstrained by the earlier 2017 decision found to be affected by bias.
Today the High Court allowed the appeal and ordered a fresh hearing in the Land Court.
It also ordered that New Acland Coal pay OCAA’s legal costs of the High Court appeal, and struck out an earlier costs order of approximately $736,000 against OCAA.
“This is a welcome decision from the High Court today,” said EDO Managing Lawyer Sean Ryan.
“It is fundamental to the administration of justice that our client and the other objectors have access to an independent decision unclouded by apprehensions of bias or unfairness.
“Our client and the other objectors can now look forward to the opportunity to present their evidence to a fresh Land Court of the impacts of this coal mine on the local farming area and on the rest of Queensland through climate change.”
OCAA president and alpaca farmer Aileen Harrison said, “It is a relief OCAA has been saved from any action against it.
“We hope that we can win from here on in and get the mine stopped, so we can save our water and land, and leave it for future generations.”
OCAA secretary Paul King said the result was a win on all counts.
“It is a better outcome than we could have hoped for,” he said.
“We have won on all counts and New Hope has been ordered to pay costs to the High Court.
“The High Court’s decision is, in our view, vindication that the Darling Downs is for farming – not coal mining.”
The full decision can be read at: http://eresources.hcourt.gov.au/showCase/2021/HCA/2
EDO would like to thank our counsel Jeremy Kirk SC, Oliver Jones and Dr Chris McGrath