A major decision is looming for residents of the Darling Downs, particularly those living and operating farms in the Acland district. The Queensland Department of Environment & Heritage Protection and Department of Natural Resources & Mines have received Submissions and Objections from concerned citizens who oppose the Stage 3 New Hope Group open cut coal mine at Acland.
Two local groups have recently joined forces in their opposition to this controversial project. Oakey Coal Action Alliance Inc. a long term, respected incorporated community group have been instrumental in the monitoring of fine airborne coal particulates, and pressuring the proponent to relocate coal loading facilities from Jondaryan. Another group,Water at Risk, are local dairy and pig farmers, graziers and croppers who are very concerned as to underground water being depleted and their livelihoods jeopardised if Stage 3 proceeds.
Both groups have similar concerns with the proposed expansion which encompass groundwater deprivation, destruction of strategic cropping land, contamination of prime agricultural land, pollution of creeks and streams, airborne coal contaminants and respiratory health risks, noise and light pollution, social disruption, and animal habitat destruction.
Members of both groups have raised concerns about management plans within the Additional Information to the Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) and New Hope’s supposed ‘make good’ provisions.
OCAA and WAR say the devil is in the detail of the AEIS and the Coordinator General report. 1,361 Ha of Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) will be destroyed, high quality land capable of producing wheat, barley, oats, corn, sorghum, millet and other crops for hundreds of years to come.
The AEIS also states that water will be taken from surrounding bores at a rate of 3.5 Mega litres per day, and operational water will be consumed at 24 Ml per day. This is 8.9 billion litres per year or 36,000 Olympic sized swimming pools just to suppress dust and wash coal.
198 private bores within a distance of 21 Km from the mine are expected to be affected by drawdown, some aquifers dropping by 47 meters .
Three residual lakes (left over mine pits) will continue to fill from aquifers to an equilibrium level some 200-300 years hence!
Acland Stage 3 has still more hurdles to cross before any Mining Lease is decided, and this week moves were made by the Labour Party and Katter Australia Party to restore community rights to oppose such projects in the Land Court, rights which were stripped away by the LNP in 2014.
The combined landholder groups will fly under the banner of OCAA. They know many Australians are adamantly opposed to this mine and others threatening our food producing land, and want to offer help with any future actions. This website www.ocaa.com.au will provide more information. Support can be via joining the group, offering donations, or helping to spread the word about OCAA’s future campaigns. Please join the group and support OCAA upcoming objections in the land Court, where the AEIS and other information will be independently scrutinised.
Remember our groups are not anti-development or anti-jobs- far from it! We are fighting simply for the right to continue farming on the inner Darling Downs. Farming is sustainable and creates significant jobs, and cash-flow for local businesses. Proper independent scrutiny of destructive projects, like Acland Stage 3, is the civil right of rural communities like ours.
The Stage 3 expansion of the New Hope mine at Acland has always been a controversial one. The proposed site is located on the heavily settled inner Darling Downs on land used for cropping, dairying and mixed farming for 5 generations. It is a stone’s throw from communities like Acland, Oakey, Jondaryan and Brymaroo with all the harmful dust and noise pollution and heavy vehicle traffic associated with a large open cut coal mining operation. At a time when over 85% of Queensland is drought declared and international experts are telling us that water and food security are the most important issues facing mankind in the future, we had a Government seemingly hell bent on facilitating this mine and others.
Despite OCAA members being familiar with the potential environmental, health, social and environmental impacts of this project and horrified by the prospect of it going ahead, we were still surprised at just how much Acland- and the nefarious dealings of New Hope Coal and the Newman Government- featured during the election campaign!
Some say it was the timing of the January election, fast on the heels of the Coordinator General approval of the project a few days before Christmas 2014 as the Government was entering a recess period. Others state the influence of radio broadcaster Alan Jones, whose Acland upbringing has always meant this issue was deeply personal to him. Alan has had one message, repeated like a mantra over and over during the past 5 years- keep mining out of Australia’s food bowls and many Queenslanders apparently agreed with him.
The backflip of LNP politicians such as Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and others, who categorically declared in the lead up to the 2012 election that the LNP would not support any expansion on prime agricultural land, including Acland and Felton did not auger well for them. These pollies may have regained their safe seats, but for many country people their sense of betrayal ran deep.
Then there was the tidal wave of submissions, planning reforms, Bills and Acts which branded the Newman-Seeney Government era. Landholders, concerned community members and environmental NGO’s were tied up for more than two years by a mess of bureaucratic red tape, deadlines, inquiries and hearings. Countless hours of time spent away from family and businesses led to frustration, ill health and even anguish…especially when it became increasingly apparent that this Government had some master plan to roll out preferential treatment to the mining industry above agriculture, rural communities, small businesses, manufacturing or tourism. Country people were left confused by the speed and extent of reforms, despairing and angry at the arrogance of a Government who were not listening to, or understanding of, rural issues. Communities lost their rights to object in the Land Court, and the resource sector was even given unprecedented access to Queensland’s precious water supplies.
The issue of coal royalties being retained by New Hope was also raised during the election. It has since been confirmed that a 1910 Queensland Mining Act loophole ensures a mere 7% of the royalties payable on coal dug from Acland district farms finds its way into our state coffers. A recent Guardian newspaper headline declared ‘The State to be a Major Loser in Acland Royalty Payouts’, with an estimated $450 million from Stage 3 and $1 billion over the life of the project withheld. No wonder New Hope wants this expansion so desperately! http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/03/queensland-mine-expansion-state-to-be-a-major-loser-in-acland-royalty-payouts
The stakes arehigh at Acland, and New Hope money has flowed through the corridors of George St and country towns like Oakey, Jondaryan, Goombungee and beyond.The amount of money slipped to the state and federal LNP since 2012 was staggering, with some estimating over $1 million. Likewise community donations over the past few years have increased to an extent directly proportional to the project risk and national outcry against mining good quality agricultural land. Our local newspapers are also full of company propaganda and accompanying ‘smiling assassin’ photographs of cheques changing hands.
In order to form Government the Anna Palaszczuk Labour party teamed with independent Peter Wellington, who made a list of conditions including review of the Acland approval process. The behaviour of New Hope Coal and the impacts of the Stage 3 Acland project are still under scrutiny and there are many more hurdles to cross before any final Mining Lease approval occurs .
Acland is a metaphor. It is a hardly-there place maybe, with a community decimated by a coal company but not cowed, and with the moral stance of one individual inspiring a movement that said ‘We are Australian. We have rights to breathe clean air and have water for our farms and we have the right to remain living in a home, or farm, of our choosing.’
Have a look at these two photos again and ask yourself what type of Darling Downs we should be aiming for- a hole in the ground or productive farmland and safe water supplies?
Please watch this space…and come back to visit this website soon for more updates.