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Fears new external review into QLD Environment Department lacks teeth

Lock the Gate Alliance welcomes an external review into the powers and penalties of the Environment Department following the long-delayed and ultimately mishandled investigation into illegal mining at New Acland.

But the Alliance remains concerned the scope of the review will not be enough to untangle the web of state capture by coal mining companies in Queensland and endemic, systemic problems within the department.

The review was revealed in response to a formal complaint lodged by Lock the Gate Alliance about the dramatic failures of enforcement in relation to illegal mining at the Acland coal mine on the Darling Downs.

In the letter to the Alliance, DES admits the length of time taken to complete the investigation - four years - was “less than desirable” and offers the “external review into the department’s powers and penalties” as a way to mitigate future investigation failures.

Despite clear evidence in 2018 that New Hope subsidiary New Acland was mining the “West Pit” area outside its official environmental approvals, it took DES until mid 2022 to resolve the matter.

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland Coordinator Ellie Smith said, “While we welcome this review, we’re concerned the terms of reference don’t go far enough. 

“The four year long investigation and subsequent lack of prosecution by the Environment Department in response to New Acland’s illegal mining of West Pit is one of the biggest environmental and social scandals of Queensland’s history.

“The handshake, backroom deal the Environment Department and New Hope cooked up in the end, instead of pursuing a prosecution against the company, was a clear example of state capture and a slap in the face for the local farmers and the broader Darling Downs community.

“These communities deserve better - Queenslanders deserve better.

“The West Pit fiasco shows the Environment Department has no control over where a company digs for coal, and that companies like New Acland can mine outside their approved areas with impunity. This shows the compliance system is broken and we need a total overhaul.

“New Hope would have made many millions more than the pittance it will pay for a few trees on the site. This is rehabilitation the company should be required to undertake anyway - it’s not a penalty by any stretch of the imagination.

“At the very least, we hope this review ensures other Queensland communities do not suffer the same fate as those who have been fighting New Acland’s coal mine for many years.  Retired Judge Richard Jones, who is heading the review, should travel to the Darling Downs and speak to the communities who have suffered due to New Acland’s illegal mining.”

ENDS

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