Queensland farmers have been given a reprieve by the nation’s highest court in their decade-long battle to stop a coal mine expansion.
But the company behind the controversial Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland coal mine says there is nothing stopping the state government from giving approvals for the project to go ahead.
Graziers with the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) sought special leave to appeal to the High Court over the project they claim threatens their Darling Downs community and water supply.
The High Court on Friday agreed to consider the matter.
The full High Court hearing, expected to take place later this year, will determine if a fresh hearing on the proposed mine expansion should be ordered.
If the new hearing is granted, it will be held in the land court.
The High Court decision was a vindication for farmers in the community near Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, OCAA representative Paul King said.
“It means there is hope that milk and food will continue to be produced in that area by the current farmers, their children and grandchildren,” he told AAP.
The decision meant a significant hurdle has been cleared, but it isn’t the end of the matter, says managing lawyer Sean Ryan from the Environmental Defenders Office, which is acting for the OCAA.
“The original land court decision was found to have failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness, however it continued to affect subsequent decisions,” Mr Ryan said.
He says the OCAA wants the High Court to decide whether the correct law had been followed in earlier court outcomes.
Mining company New Hope Group says it will meet with the Queensland government within days to ask for outstanding approvals for the project to be granted.
Chief operating officer Andrew Boyd said a land court hearing in November 2018 recommended the government grant approvals.
“In March 2019 the government granted the project its environmental authority and we see no reason why the government can’t also grant the outstanding mining leases and associated water licence,” Mr Boyd said in a statement.
“By acting now, the government will not only protect the current 150 jobs at New Acland, but will allow us to get moving on Stage 3 and create more than 450 new jobs and pump $7 billion into the state economy.”
But the EDO’s Mr Ryan said the state government should wait for the outcome of the High Court process to clarify whether the existing recommendation was valid.