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FOIs show Clive Palmer’s coastal coal mine would overlap Defence land

Newly obtained freedom of information documents show Clive Palmer’s planned Central Queensland Coal Mine is on a collision course with land the Australian Defence Force recently acquired to use as a joint training ground for up to 14,000 Singaporean troops.

The FOIs show land purchased as part of the north-west expansion of the Shoalwater Bay training area, known as the Shoalwater Bay Expansion Area (SWBEA)  overlaps the Central Queensland Coal lease area.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced contracts to clear and build in the expanded area in May last year calling it “one of Australia’s most important training areas.” However correspondence from October last year captured in the FOIs shows department staff were understandably worried when they became aware the land overlapped the mine lease area.

Defence highlights numerous concerns in the correspondence, and references the Independent Expert Scientific Committee’s scathing rebuke of the planned mine, particularly its impacts on groundwater, saying that:

“Deleterious impacts upon groundwater resources may significantly impact the sustainability of large-scale activities such as major exercises and training.”

Defence also appears concerned about how vibration, noise, and light from the mine might reduce the ability for Defence to conduct training exercises:

Vibrations and other activities inherent with large mining operations have the capability to change the geography of the immediate region, and therefore may impact the suitability of the area, particularly the SWBEA, for certain exercises.”

Central Queensland Coal first referred the project, located just 10km from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, for Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act assessment in 2016. However the Queensland Government recommended against the mine last year primarily due to the environmental threat it would pose to the Great Barrier Reef and nearby estuaries.

Despite this, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley was still required to assess the project under EPBC Act and make a now long overdue decision on whether it could proceed.

Co-ordinator at Capricorn Conservation Council Coral Rowston urged Minister Ley to reject the project.

“Expert scientists say this coal mine 10km from the Great Barrier Reef is a bad idea and theQueensland Government has effectively rejected it due to significant risks to the reef.  Now even Defence has expressed reservations,” she said. 

“This project is not only a risk to the environment, including endangered koalas and greater gliders, but also to other industries in the region including tourism, agriculture, fisheries and now Defence. 

“We’ve been waiting almost a year for Minister Ley to make a decision on this project. Central Queenslanders who depend on the Reef for tourism and fishing want this damaging coal mine to be rejected.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said Defence’s groundwater concerns highlighted one of the biggest impacts of large coal mines on communities.

“Large coal mines drain the water table, rendering water bores relied on by farmers and communities near coal mines all across Queensland useless,” she said.

“Defence’s concerns highlight what communities across Queensland have been saying for years. 

“No one should have a coal mine forced on them against their will - not the Australian Defence Force, not farmers, no one.  It’s time for Sussan Ley to reject this damaging mine.”


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