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Environment v economy - pressure builds over billions in coal projects


Governments are under pressure to approve billions of dollars in new coal projects in Queensland to boost the post-COVID-19 jobs market, with one company waiting more than 4700 days since it first made an application for approval.

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The Federal Government has revealed a decision on the $1 billion Olive Downs coal mine in central Queensland is expected soon, but the company behind the project, Pembroke Resources, has been dealing with the environmental processes for months. It was given approval by the Queensland Co-ordinator General in May last year.

The Morrison Government this month ticked off Pembroke’s application for the Olive Downs rail spur and water pipeline and it is in the final stages of assessing an electricity transmission line.

“The final decisions are expected shortly,” the Environment Department said.

The project would generate 1000 jobs in construction and 500 in operation.

It comes as the Palaszczuk Government fended off the New Hope Group over its continued pressure for a decision on its $900 million Acland coal mine expansion. The first application for the project was lodged in 2007 and the company said that added up to 4736 days it has been waiting.

After lengthy Land Court hearings and appeals to the Supreme Court, objectors the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, has sought leave to appeal to the High Court, with a hearing expected next month.

The company cited comments from Justice Peter Applegarth that governments should not be waiting for court approvals.

In his 2017 judgement, Justice Applegarth said:

“I have to consider that there is an important public interest in decisions of Ministers and the Approving Authority not being made on the basis of decisions or recommendations which are legally flawed.

“Also, I have to weigh in the balance the public interest in decision-making processes of the kind created by statute not being unduly delayed with every step in a process being treated as if the decision is merely provisional and somehow ineffective until it has been the subject of judicial review.”

A New Hope spokesman said the legal case should not be a barrier to the Government making a decision on their own criteria,” New Hope’s spokesman Peter Turnbull said.

He said the company was prepared to wear the risk of any future court decision.

New Hope has calculated that it could create about 60 new jobs within three months of approval, 187 within six months and 258 within 12 months, but at current production levels it will be forced to shut the mine early next year if there is no approval.

“OCAA has not appealed (the Court of Appeal) ruling. They have said they lost but don’t agree with the orders and it should go back to the Land Court,” the spokesman said.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said the Government’s position on the New Acland Coal Mine expansion has been consistent since its commitment before the 2017 election and that was to accept the decision of the courts.

“We will await the outcome of the High Court action before finalising the remaining approvals for this project,” Lynham said.

Queensland’s most controversial mining project, the Adani Carmichael thermal coal mine, has also granted a $200-million plus contract for a section of the rail line to the coast to Martinus.

The project will create about 600 jobs and the workforce will be drawn from Townsville and Rockhampton.

Arrow Energy last week announced a $2 billion first stage investment in its Surat Gas project, with an expected $10 billion to be invested over the life of the scheme.


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