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Battle lines drawn in final coal mine fight

Toowoomba coal miner and CFMEU official Michael Hartin lobbying for the expansion of New Acland's Darling Downs mine with his three children Amelia, 15, Curtis, 13 and Oliver, 10
Toowoomba coal miner and CFMEU official Michael Hartin lobbying for the expansion of New Acland's Darling Downs mine with his three children Amelia, 15, Curtis, 13 and Oliver, 10 Jessica Grewal

FOR Toowoomba father Michael Hartin, this week's landmark court case about the future of New Acland's Darling Downs coal mine could determine whether he and hundreds of his workmates stay and raise their families locally or are forced to move away.

Outside the Land Court of Queensland, where day one of a hearing about the risks the mine could pose to water quality began on Monday, Mr Hartin, his children and about a dozen other workers and their families showed their support for the controversial Stage 3 expansion of the project.

Mr Hartin, a mining operator and union secretary, said "storm in a tea cup" misinformation was unnecessarily putting livelihoods at risk.

He claimed the New Hope Group's commitment to restoring surrounding land to "better than its original condition" and carrying out its own rigorous environmental checks meant New Acland could "set a standard for what a mine could look like into the 21st century" but that too many people still saw only "dirty coal".

"If this isn't approved it will have a devastating impact on our communities," Mr Hartin said

"To a lot of people towns like Oakey and Jondaryan are tiny dots on a map, but for us they are our homes, and massive job cuts would mean some of us would have to leave.

"These people are not just miners, they are football coaches, school committee presidents, parents.

"We are not fly-in, fly-out workers, we are locals who live within a 45-minute drive who want to stay, work here and raise our kids and with all this misinformation being spread around, we are scared we are going to lose that."

Standing in the mining giant's way is the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, the 60-strong lobby group of landowners and environmentalists who say families such as the Hartins face a far bleaker future if mining giants continue to take over fertile farming land.

The Stage 3 expansion would require about 1300 hectares, and has received preliminary government approval.

New Acland must now convince the Land Court the effective eviction of farmers is justified and the mine will not pose an unacceptable risk to the environment.

Closing submissions were last October but earlier this year New Acland won an eleventh-hour bid to enter into evidence a new, independent report about the predicted impact on groundwater. .

Oakey Coal Action Alliance Secretary Paul King told the crowd outside court on Monday that up until that point, he believed the lobby group had won the case.

"New Acland must have thought the same...because they all of a sudden in December they said 'hang on, new evidence...we've got new evidence to say our groundwater modelling can take care of any situation'," Mr King said.

"We are going to prove it (the new report) changes nothing.

"We are fighting for the farmers, we're fighting for the love of Queensland and the Darling Downs and to keep coal mining off good farming land forever."

Monday's hearing focussed on the objections of the OCAA to several conditions in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The court heard the report identified several potential risks to water which would be "mitigated" if they arose but made no mention of what that actually meant and the process that would take place to ensure contamination did not occur.

The hearing is expected to take at least four days.

- ARM NEWSDESK

Topics:  contaminated water land court new acland coal mine oakey coal action alliance


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