The New Acland coal mine expansion has received a draft authority from the Queensland government, but not without ongoing controversy.
The new environmental authority has attracted wide attention to political donations made to the Newman Government by New Hope Group’s parent company, Washington H Soul Pattinson (WHSP).
With $700,000 donated to the state Liberal National Party and the federal Liberal Party over three years, Queensland parliament speaker Peter Wellington has called for the donations to be investigated.
"One of the issues I raised with [Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk] was to look at the possible connection between significant donations and particular decisions," Wellington told the ABC.
"I will be interested to see how the new head of the CCC [Alan MacSporran] will act on this.
"One of the issues here is following the money trail. It's important to know that there's been no inappropriate influence exerted."
Last week Lock the Gate Alliance lodged a complaint with the CCC (Crime and Corruption Commission) which alleged the Newman LNP government reversed its position against the New Acland mine expansion after New Hope and WHSP made political donations.
Lock the Gate president Drew Hutton was critical of the Queensland Labor government for failing to investigate the donations sooner.
"Queensland Labor promised during the election campaign to scrutinise the approval process for the mine," Hutton said.
"They promised a full CCC inquiry in relation to political donations issues.
“Neither of those things happened."
Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche welcomed the draft environmental approval as an important milestone for New Acland which would secure jobs in the Oakey area, but said the calls for CCC investigation were “no more than a variation on the activists’ ‘disrupt and delay’ strategy, using litigation, to hold up coal projects”.
“We will leave it to the CCC to handle this matter professionally and objectively, ignoring the public commentary by certain politicians and green activists,” he said.
Concerns have also been raised that environmental conditions are not strict enough, with no limits set for fine dust particles from the mine.
"The draft EA also seems to have included a condition that specifically protects the mine against claims of causing environmental nuisance even if it is causing more dust at people's homes than the limits the government policies set to protect health and wellbeing,” Dr Plant said.
"It also specifically does not set any limits to PM2.5, which are very small particles of dust that the Queensland Government's own policies — as well as numerous other organisations including the World Health Organisation — recognise as also being very important for human health."
Dr Plant claimed the mine would impact on 357 registered bores, with aquifer drawdown that would continue for 300 years after mining ended at New Acland.
It is also understood that the New Hope, which purchased all lands required for the Phase 3 expansion, will use a pre-1910 legislative loophole that requires royalties to be paid to the landholder rather than the state government.
Other than for gold, if freehold rights to the land were granted prior to March 1910, the private holder of the land, not the state, keeps the mineral rights and royalties are paid directly to the land holder.
Queensland speaker Wellington said LNP claims that the state would benefit from significant royalties from the mine were “one of the furphies of the previous government” and not the case.
In response to queries from the speaker, New Hope CEO Shane Stephan wrote to Wellington to explain that the company would keep 77 per cent of royalties from the mine, while the state of Queensland would receive 7 per cent of the royalties.
Queensland coal royalties are 7 per cent of total value up to and including a market value of $100 per tonne, meaning the Queensland government will keep 49 cents out of every $100 worth of value produced by the New Acland mine.
Image: Toowomba Chronicle