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Central Queensland community votes decisively against new coal mine in heart of coal country

A country town in the heart of Queensland’s coalfields has voted overwhelmingly against a proposed new coal mine, in a landmark development for the region and the state. 

A recent survey undertaken in Baralaba, 150km west of Rockhampton, has shown more than 97% of locals oppose the proposed Baralaba South coal mine. 

The decisive result represents the first time a community has stood united in opposition to a proposed coal project in the Bowen Basin, the biggest coal producing region in Australia, which is the largest coal exporting nation in the world. 

Mount Ramsay Coal Company, which is 100 percent owned by American insurance behemoth Liberty Mutual, wants to build the Baralaba South coal mine on prime agricultural land, mapped as Strategic Cropping Land, on the floodplains of the Dawson River and 12km from Baralaba itself. 

However, the company faces stiff community opposition, with a comprehensive survey undertaken by the local Save the Dawson community group revealing 97.2 percent of respondents oppose the mine, with 99.6 percent in favour of reforms to better protect strategic cropping land in Queensland

If the mine is allowed to proceed, Baralaba residents say it would:

  • permanently destroy thousands of acres of prime agricultural land

  • lead to severe flooding of thousands of acres of surrounding highly productive crop-farming areas and homes due to giant flood levee banks diverting floodwaters of the Dawson River

  • deplete and pollute water relied on for irrigation and stockwater by dozens of large cropping and livestock farms

  • potentially lead to permanent contamination of the drinking water supplies for the towns of Baralaba and the Woorabinda Aboriginal community, both during operational phase and due to the proposal to leave permanent ‘final void’ open cut mining pits on the flood plain, which would cause acid mine drainage and heavy metal run-off into the river just 8kms upstream of the towns’ drinking water extraction points

  • cause a wide range of other direct impacts including air pollution, excessive noise, and an increased risk of fatalities on local roads. The project proposes to use 110-tonne, quad-trailer coal haul trucks, passing every 3-6 minutes, 24hrs a day on a local road, currently used by schoolchildren on the schoolbus and passing near farmers’ homes. 

Jess Bidgood, whose family runs an organic beef farm next to the proposed mine site, said the survey results sent an unequivocal message: “The community has spoken and they’re opposed to this project. They’re opposed to mining on strategic cropping land and they’re opposed to Baralaba South.”

The mine’s proponent, Liberty Mutual, came under fire in June for walking away from insuring the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine on the grounds of its new climate change policy, yet has continued to push ahead with plans to build its own 100 percent owned coal mine at Baralaba South. 

Paul Stephenson, whose family has farmed next to the proposed mine’s coal dump near Moura for three generations, said the company's recent claim it wouldn’t invest in new coal mines was "a lie" in light of its attempts to push ahead with the Baralaba South coal mine. The project also came under fire in October last year for seeking to avoid the Palaszczuk Government’s new stricter rehabilitation requirements.  

“The community has spoken," Mr Stephenson said.

"This mine can never proceed. It is time for Liberty Mutual to withdraw this disastrous project before any more harm can be done.”

“Our group is calling on all political parties, and particularly on Labor and the LNP and their leaders Premier Palaszczuk and Deb Frecklington, to take a clear position on where they stand on this mine, and on where they stand on protecting prime ag land from mining.

"We want to know their parties’ positions and whether they will respect the will of locals, or the U.S. company that wants to wreck our land and water.

“Our local MP Colin Boyce has already opposed this mine publicly [on ABC radio]. We are calling on his party, the LNP, and on Labor to follow suit and come out with a clear public position on the mine. 

“The LNP has committed to reforms of Queensland’s Regional Planning Interests Act to better protect prime agricultural land from destructive coal and gas projects. The next logical step is for them to come out and oppose this proposed mine on prime strategic cropping land. We are calling on Labor to follow suit with a commitment to reforming the legislation to ensure our regions’ most fertile farming land can’t be ripped up permanently for short-term mining projects.

“Clearly the Regional Planning legislation is not working when it’s possible for a mining company to rip up fertile cropping farmland like this on the Dawson River floodplain. 

“There should be no debate among political representatives of any persuasion about the need to protect our most productive agricultural land from destructive mining projects. 

“This land should be protected under the Queensland Government’s Regional Planning Interest Act 2014, but clearly, this legislation needs reforms. 

“It’s time for Liberty Mutual to walk away, to save themselves and the community a lot of grief and uncertainty, and abandon this catastrophic coal mine proposal.” 

Save the Dawson group chairman and Baralaba grazier Brett Coombe said, “You can’t put a coal mine on a floodplain, it just shouldn’t happen. 

“Especially on prime agricultural land - we’re not going to get any more of this - the prime agricultural land that we’ve got in the world today is all we’re ever going to have. We’ve got to look after it because we want it to be here for the next thousand years for our kids and our great grandkids and that’s not going to happen if we keep mining on floodplains.  

“We’re fundamentally opposed to this mine because it will be built on a floodplain next to a river on prime agricultural land. 

“As ambassadors looking after that land, we’ve got a responsibility to make sure the water that goes into the river is as good as we can make it because eventually it gets to the Reef. 

“That’s the other thing that really gets us - Liberty Mutual can build this mine so close to a watercourse that flows to the Great Barrier Reef. It just shouldn’t be done.”

Douglas Graham, Director of the Woorabinda Indigenous Knowledge Learning Centre, said, “We haven’t been consulted about anything about the water usage.

“I’m thinking about the dry years as well, because last year was pretty dry… If the river goes below 3.5m we don’t get anything here. So that’s the impact that water has on a dry season. And just imagine that dry season with what the mine wants to take out the same year.” 

Vision of Baralaba and Woorabinda locals discussing their opposition to the mine is available here (password Baralaba01) and here (password Baralaba#). The names of those that appear in the first video are, in order: Brett Coomb, Jess and John Bidgood, Brett Coomb, Paul and Bronny McLellan, Douglas Graham, Alwyn Doolan, Bronny McLellan, Barry Tucker and Robby Price, Jess and John Bidgood, Lex Webb, Tristan Austin, BJ Austin, Auda Mclean, Cameron Nass. 

Images are available here and here.

Quick facts:

  • If built, the Baralaba South greenfield, multi-seam, open-cut coal mine, would produce up to 5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of run-of-mine coal for 30-40 years.

  • The mine’s location would be approximately 12km south of Baralaba, between Mt Ramsay and the Dawson River within a Mining Lease of 2 214 hectares which covers strategic cropping land. The mine is planned to be built 500m from the Dawson River on a floodplain where the river spreads to 11km wide during floods.

  • Less than 9000 people in CQ are employed in mining.

  • Jobs in the agriculture industry keep people living in rural and regional communities, while mining industry jobs, like those at Baralaba, are often heavily FIFO-based with little to no benefit, and many negative impacts, for local communities.

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