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Palaszczuk Government prioritises coal over koalas, hope now rests with Plibersek

A Central Queensland community group is calling on Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to stop a new coal project that would destroy more than a 1000 hectares of koala habitat and 70 hectares of greater glider habitat.

Last week, the Queensland Palaszczuk Government quietly granted an environmental authority to Vitrinite for a rail loop, coal processing and handling plant, and a new open-cut pit as part of the larger “Vulcan Complex”. 

While there is no explicit requirement for the federal government to assess the project, Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland has written to Minister Plibersek, asking that she call Vulcan South and the associated infrastructure project in for assessment under the EPBC Act. 

A complicated coal complex:

  • The “Vulcan Complex” is a 70 km long greenfield coal project planned for Central QLD.

  • While promoted by owner Vitrinite as a single, continuous project on its website, it has been split into three different parts which are each being assessed individually. Critics argue this has allowed the company to avoid more stringent state environmental assessment.

  • The first part, a 1.95 million tonne per annum coal mine named “Vulcan Coal” was referred to the former federal government for assessment as the project requires the removal of 203.5ha of koala habitat and 380 ha of squatter pigeon habitat. The then Environment Minister Sussan Ley approved the Vulcan Coal mine in March 2022.

  • The second application for associated infrastructure was quietly approved last week by the QLD Government and is now awaiting federal assessment.

  • The third part, “Vulcan South”, also a 1.95 MTPA coal mine, is being assessed by the Palaszczuk Government, with a decision expected early next month. If approved as expected, it will then pass on to Minister Plibersek for a final decision.

Vitrinite proposes mining 1.95 million tonnes of coal each year at both “Vulcan Coal” and “Vulcan South”. Individually, these projects fall just below the Queensland Government's two million MTPA threshold that trigger a more detailed Environmental Impact Assessment, but if all parts of the project were applied for at the same time, Vitrinite would have had to submit a proper environmental impact statement.

Media has previously reported at least eight coal projects in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area have been exempted from requiring environmental impact statements by the Palaszczuk Government because they don’t meet this threshold.

Vitrinite wants to build its Vulcan Complex in an area of Central Queensland that contains large tracts of native vegetation and that has so far managed to escape the intense coal mining that has occurred further east. It is also adjacent to the Peak Range National Park, and is a popular tourist destination.

Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland director Doctor Coral Rowston said, “The Queensland Palaszczuk Government’s arbitrary threshold for more stringent environmental assessment allows coal mining companies to game the system, and that’s exactly what is happening here.

“The lack of an environmental impact assessment means the state government has effectively approved more than half of the massive Vulcan complex behind closed doors. Queenslanders expect much greater transparency from their government.

“The Palaszczuk Government needs to prioritise koalas and greater gliders over coal mines, particularly at a time when fossil-fuel driven global warming is putting the unique ecosystems of Central Queensland at ever increasing peril.

“We hold out little hope the Palaszczuk Government will reject Vulcan South so we have written to federal environment Minister Plibersek. We sincerely hope that she recognises the sham process that has gone on here and puts a stop to the clearing of even more koala habitat in this beautiful part of Queensland. 

“There is no future in coal, but the government needs to make sure there is a future for koalas.” 

Lock the Gate Alliance national coordinator Ellen Roberts said, “Tanya Plibersek made the right decision when she refused the Central Queensland Coal Project due to the direct impacts it would have on the Great Barrier Reef and local environment.

“Here is another coal project that will have a direct and devastating impact on the local environment, including two endangered species. It should be a no-brainer for Minister Plibersek to reject this coal mine due to the unacceptable threat it poses to two of Australia’s most iconic, and threatened, species.

“Tanya Plibersek loves going koala spotting in leafy inner city Brisbane, so we’re very hopeful that love extends north and she will stop this koala and glider-killing project.”


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