Farmers vs Big Coal 1
Yesterday I attended the Land Court in Brisbane. It was day 3 of an action brought by a group of Central Queensland landowners and the community group Coast and Country Association Queensland, who challenge the approval of Hancock Coal's (and GVK's) Alpha mine on the basis of the threat it poses to water supplies; the irreversible damage to the environment by opencast mining (and don't forget the rail corridor); the threat to the Great Barrier Reef of port dredging and bulk carrier channels; and the project's contribution to global carbon emissions, and hence climate change.
Supporters of the graziers' cause were asked to attend the Court today because individual landowners were going to be taking the stand. Gathered outside before proceedings began at 10 were representatives of a number of lobby groups, including Lock the Gate Alliance, Protect the Bush Alliance and wildlife organisations, as well as many individuals who believe that farmers' rights and protection of the environment should be defended more vigorously under the law.
The court resumed with the landowners' cross-examination of a groundwater expert, and was principally concerned with the potential groundwater impact of the mine on properties adjoining rather than within the mining lease application area. Of surprise to me was the lack of a regional groundwater model based on the impacts of all four proposed mines in the Alpha area. The landowners argued that baseline data used in groundwater modelling by the mining companies should have been carried out over a longer period so that water level fluctuations following particularly wet or dry seasons are fully understood.
I noted wryly that water-level-monitoring devices on bore holes are solar-powered.
None of the landowners can afford a barrister so are representing themselves in court. Not only do they each have to grapple with the science of hydrogeology but also legal speak and procedure. The judge was looking out for them, however. He told them to take time whenever they got flustered; he carefully explained the procedural subtleties of their submissions when they were challenged by Hancock's highly polished barrister; and expressed his pervading concern about the landowners' belief that they are not getting a fair go in their dealings with the mining company to obtain 'make-good agreements'. These are intended to reduce uncertainty about the landowners' future economic viability by securing an assurance from Hancock that they will replace water lost as a result of mining activity.
During the evidence of the first landowner to take the stand, a grazier from near Jericho, the court became bogged in a technicality: whether a certain disclosure by the witness was consistent with the maintenance of confidentiality preserved by 'without prejudice'* correspondence between the parties. This matter consumed a great deal of the rest of the day's session, and taxed my brain enormously. The workings of the court are fascinating and extremely demanding.
But I'll be back.
Below: enthusiastic supporters of the landowners, and the Queensland police keeping an eye on us
* Without any loss or waiver of rights or privileges