Coal mine expansion approved after $700k donation to LNP now faces hurdle

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(Images via @LockTheGate)

The Acland coal mine expansion, controversial  approved by the Newman Government following a timely six figure 'donation' by the mine proponents, may have run into a potential road block with the new Government. Alex McKean reports.

A GREAT DEAL of attention was focused on the approval of a controversial Stage 3 for the New Acland coal mine in the recent Queensland election. Of particular interest were allegations levelled by guest 4BC radio host Alan Jones that the Newman Government had broken a promise by approving the massive expansion to the mine just prior to the election being called.

These allegations appeared to incense the upper echelons of the LNP government, particularly when Mr Jones appeared to link the unexpected approval to donations totaling upwards of $700,000 by the mine proponent to the LNP and Liberal Party coffers.

It now appears the LNP Government had not finally approved the New Acland Stage 3 prior to losing government, because it failed to approve an amended environmental authority for the project, as required by the Environmental Protection Act.

As a result, it appears the ALP Government has the power and the discretion to reject the EA (and the project) under that Act. Recent legal advice indicates that Labor can either reject the expansion of the mine, or simply not respond to the application by the proponent, which will lead to it lapsing after 21 days.

Minister for Mines Anthony Lynham MP said before the State election that he was not in favour of the Acland expansion and that their government would be looking carefully at the contract for a way out of the LNP's plans. 

Prior to the election, Labor promised an inquiry into political donations and, in February 2015, Labor made a number of commitments to the Speaker of the House, Mr Peter Wellington MP, including the following:

Labor will hold a public inquiry into links, if any, between donations to political parties and the awarding of tenders, contracts and approvals. The anti-corruption watchdog has the powers of standing royal commission and will be able to thoroughly investigate these issues.

Labor has stated publicly its concerns about the process used to approve stage 3 of the New Acland Mine, particularly the approval of the environmental impact statement just six days before Christmas in 2014. Labor will scrutinise the approvals process for this project and the impacts of this mine on local communities.

These promised inquiries are now needed urgently to examine the interrelationship between political donations and mining approvals under the former LNP Government.

Certainly, no approval of an expansion to the Acland mine, about which such strong concerns were expressed prior to the election, should precede those inquires and investigations being completed.

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