Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine project could be halted as legal action launched in the Federal Court seeks to overturn environmental approval for the $766 million project.
The Northern Inland Council for the Environment filed the challenge in the Federal Court yesterday under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, challenging the validity of former federal environment minister Tony Burke’s decision to approve the mine.
The group also lodged an appeal against Indemitsu’s plans to expand its Boggabri project which is in close proximity to Maules Creek in the Gunnedah Basin of NSW.
“The decision to approve these highly controversial mines was made in haste after documents were leaked, and on the basis of potentially false or misleading information,'' Phil Spark, the spokesman of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, said.
The Maules Creek mine project was granted with strict environmental conditions in February before being given the final go ahead in early July.
Whitehaven announced that with the final approvals needed to begin construction preparation of the mine site would start this month.
In a statement today Whitehaven said the ‘mere commencement of litigation’ would not stop the company in continuing with construction work.
“The Maules Creek coal project involved a comprehensive assessment and decision-making process,'' the company said.
“If, however, the court was to find that there was any legal error in the Minister's granting of the approval on 11 February 2013, the company will request that the Minister promptly cure the error, re-determine the application and grant a new approval. There is no contention in this litigation that the Minister is prohibited from granting an approval for the project.''
Whitehaven was quick to point out that the action taken was to determine whether Burke committed an error of law in granting the approval and that it was not a merits appeal.
“The court does not have the task of determining whether or not the project should be approved,'' Whitehaven said.
Burke has already had his decision to grant approval to a new iron ore mine in Tasmania overturned this week.
Judge Shane Marshall found approval for Shree Mineral’s mine was invalid because Burke failed to give “genuine consideration'' to conservation advice on the endangered Tasmanian devil.
The Maules Creek mine project has been a contentious issue in the local community since its inception.
Protests broke out after the decision to grant environmental approval was handed down earlier this month, with Traditional Owners claiming Whitehaven hasn’t done enough in its Cultural Heritage Management Plan to preserve cultural artefacts
Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbott said the company has not carried out proper consultation and said more respect needs to be shown to local Indigenous culture.
“Whitehaven have shown no respect for Aboriginal cultural heritage or our people. Even today, they lied to our Elders about work progress. We are standing up for our Elders and for our children today,” Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbott said.
While local farmers have also spoken out about the mine’s potential impacts.
Long term resident and farmer Phil Laird said the mine would impact on the natural environment.
‘‘We don’t want this area to become the next Hunter Valley,’’ Leard said.
‘‘Between them, Maules Creek and Boggabri mines will account for more than 4000hectares of the 7500-hectare Leard State Forest, leaving massive final voids that the scientific experts said should be filled in.
‘‘Environmentally, the mines will devastate various native species including koalas and swift parrots, and as farmers, we are concerned about the damage the mines will do to the surrounding aquifers.’’
Earlier this year, activist Jonathan Moylan temporarily wiped $314 million off Whitehaven’s market value when he issued a fake press release stating ANZ had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan to fund the project.
Moylan has since been charged over the hoax and told Australian Mining that he is willing to go to jail for his cause saying the miner shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the forest.