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.