An environmental lawyer accused the Queensland government of allowing it to be bullied by failing to prosecute a coal company over alleged illegal mining in the state's south.
New Hope Group and the Department of Environment and Science DES have reached an agreement on a plan to rehabilitate more than 100 hectares of land after investigations into alleged unauthorised disturbances in an area known as West Pit, at its New Acland Coal Mine near Oakey.
DES said the company had applied for a rehabilitation agreement as an alternative to enforcement action.
Queensland barrister Chris McGrath has been involved in several cases involving the New Acland mine and said it was already required to rehabilitate the mine site as part of the company's mine approvals.
He said this is an incredible outcome for New Hope and they have succeeded in bullying the Queensland government into taking no action for a major breach of our state's environmental laws.
It's nothing. It's like saying, 'I'm going to obey the speed limit, and saying that's a good thing. Oakey farmer Tanya Plant raised concerns about the mining of West Pit in 2016 and said she was disappointed by the outcome.
She said that it doesn't do much to restore people's faith in the government being able to enforce conditions.
It was good that they have finally done something, but it is disappointing that they haven't done more about it. She said people had become cynical after the company received small fines for noise breaches.
Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon has been contacted for comment.
A DES spokeswoman said on Thursday that the deal had put an end to extensive inquiries into the matter and would result in about 140 hectares of land for conservation and koala habitat once mining ends at New Acland.
The mine's general manager Dave O'Dwyer said its West Pit mining operation had been included in its plans.
He said that the DES disputed this as an accepted form of authorisation.
Since 2019, more than 280 workers have been made redundant, with only 20 remaining on-site for care and maintenance.
The mining at the New Acland site stopped on November 26, 2021, after it exhausted its supply of coal.
New Hope Group has applied for approval from the Queensland government for its stage three expansion of the mine.
Anthony James is a butcher in the nearby town of Oakey and said he had to let go of staff since the mine closed last year.
He said that the mine's completion is a cause that he said we're losing more customers than we're gaining because there's no add-on businesses coming in.
Mr James said he used to supply more than $1,000 worth of meat to a service station near a coal train loading facility.
He said that it's down to $400 because it doesn't have the same traffic.
He said the decision to give the operators of the New Acland Coal Mine an alternative to enforcement by state regulators was a case of a drawn-out saga that had been a drag on the town's economy.
How many holes do you have to jump through to get something put through, Mr James said.
According to Mr McGrath, the company had made $900 million from mining at least 9 million tons of coal from West Pit, but New Hope Group didn't want to comment on this.
He said if the company had been found guilty of a serious environmental crime, that could have resulted in their stage three approval being refused.