The Queensland Government has quietly handed out one of the final approvals for the New Acland coal mine stage 3 expansion that would nullify meagre protections originally intended to protect the state’s very best farming country.
The New Acland coal mine has already dug up and destroyed land classed as “priority agricultural area” and “strategic cropping land” under the Regional Planning Interests Act (RPIA) - legislation introduced in 2014 that was intended to protect the state’s best farmland from coal and gas extraction. The stage 3 expansion, if approved, would destroy even more of this prime agricultural land.
Despite this, three months ago the Queensland Treasury Department (encompassing the Planning Department) quietly waved through a Regional Interest Development Approval (RIDA), which gave New Acland the right to mine the land that is mapped as a Priority Agricultural Area under the Darling Downs Regional Plan - areas where farming was meant to be priority land use.
The decision was quietly posted on a government website with no notification to the many landholders and other groups that had made submissions on the original application in January 2020.
Lock the Gate Alliance has previously revealed that while only 11 percent of Queensland is mapped as priority areas under the RPIA, 37% of that area is under threat from or has already been destroyed by existing coal and unconventional gas projects. An interactive map showing the extent of the overlap is available here.
Oakey Coal Action Alliance president and alpaca farmer Aileen Harrison said the decision to approve the RIDA over the area was disgraceful at a time when she and others were challenging the project in the High Court of Australia.
“The soils New Acland now has approval to rip up and destroy are among the top 1.5 percent in the state,” she said.
“The legislation that is meant to protect this top-quality country has clearly failed, and must be urgently reformed by the reinstated Palaszczuk Government.
“Land like this cannot be rehabilitated to its original quality once mined. The rehabilitation attempts by New Hope so far have proven this. The company has turned gold star cropping country into scrub that can barely feed cattle.
“Once prime agricultural land is lost, it is lost forever. It should not be sacrificed for the sake of a temporary coal mine that will have a net negative impact on jobs in the region if it goes ahead.”
While the approval of the RIDA is a blow to farmers, New Acland can only start mining its stage 3 expansion if it is granted a mining license and a water license. The High Court is also yet to make its decision on the matter.