Acland New Hope mine, in Acland, Queensland. Pic: Jack Tran
Acland New Hope mine, in Acland, Queensland. Pic: Jack Tran

‘Adani 2.0’ battle shapes as electoral flashpoint

It's shaping up as a repeat of the 2019 federal election when a mine, not a policy or a politician, was not merely a key player, but a key decider in the outcome.

The New Acland coalmine near Toowoomba is "Adani Mark II'' - a flashpoint between Labor's inner-city, green-leaning constituency and its traditional blue-collar base.

And while the Queensland Labor Government might wish it would just go away as the October election looms, there it sits on the Darling Downs, a massive, coal black smudge on Labor's otherwise favourable election landscape.

If Labor were a person coalmining would join shearing, cane cutting and stevedoring as among its first jobs.

One of Labor's early Prime Ministers, Andrew Fisher, started working life in Scotland's Ayrshire coal mines in one of those "log cabin to the White House'' stories which still have some hold on an ALP which retains an emotional attachment to its founding legends and myths.

Which is why last week's powerfully worded press release, put out by the Michael Ravbar, boss of the Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, had such resonance.

Ravbar, in announcing the CFMEU's split from the Left faction, wasn't reserving his judgment on the party's Left which he said lacked both leadership and the ability to advocate for working class Queenslanders.

"Quite simply, the so-called Left faction is now merely an impotent and self-serving echo chamber for a cabal of Peel Street elite who have totally lost touch with their working class roots,'' Ravbar said.

 

The New Hope mine at Acland, west of Toowoomba
The New Hope mine at Acland, west of Toowoomba

 

A week earlier federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who nearly lost his mining intensive seat of Hunter in NSW to One Nation in the last federal election, gave an even more sombre warning about Labor's loss of touch with its working class base in a podcast which briefly sent up a flare of that ugly spectre that was 1955 and the Labor Party split.

Fitzgibbon, who was not referring to the New Hope project specifically, said the ALP was in danger of falling apart at its city/regional seams.

Sydney and Melbourne Labor MPs could go on pushing their own agendas while "the guy in central Queensland, with the other Labor Party - call it New Labor, Old Labor or whatever you like to call them - is doing something else," Fitzgibbon said.

The Acland Mine outside Toowoomba is shovel-ready, with more than 10,000 Queenslanders expressing an interest in working there the moment the State Government gives the green light to proceed.

But a community group, the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, have been given special leave to appeal to the High Court regarding an earlier Land Court decision which went against the OCAA.

The State Government is steadfast, saying it is waiting for the judicial process to play out before it approves the mine.

New Hope chief operations officer Andrew Boyd
New Hope chief operations officer Andrew Boyd

 

New Hope chief operations officer Andrew Boyd, who watched the Queensland Government move decisively to approve the Adani Coal Project in Central Queensland in the wake of

Federal Labor's 2019 election loss on a regional Queensland pro-mining backlash, says he is baffled by the government's ongoing equivocation.

Mr Boyd said the mining application had cleared every other hurdle and the looming High Court battle did not deal with any substantive environmental issues.

"Over the past three years we have fought and won a series of legal battles against this group (the OCAA),'' Mr Boyd said.

"Their latest appeal to the High Court does not challenge findings on groundwater or any other environmental issue that is relevant to any decision being made by Government.''

Mr Boyd said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had repeatedly said all jobs were precious and that regional jobs mattered to her.

"With the Downs community in the grip of the worst unemployment in the country and the state facing a post COVID-19 economic disaster there has never been a better time to approve Stage 3,'' he said.

"The Premier is making a big deal of projects in other regions that may generate jobs five or ten years down the track.

"Acland Stage 3 is shovel ready and can provide long- term jobs now and into the future in a region that is on its knees."

A train transfers coal from the New Hope mine.
A train transfers coal from the New Hope mine.

New Hope says more than 10,000 people from across the state recently registered their interest in working at the expanded mine and while no jobs were promised those people would be kept informed about the project.

The company has been on the road in recent weeks, travelling through regional Queensland to put its case directly to ordinary regional Queenslanders, many of whom depend directly or indirectly on coal mining for their livelihoods.

Queensland Labor MPs Shayne Neumann and Anthony Chisholm (a past state party secretary) have each urged the State Government to approve the mine while Queensland CFMEU mining division president Stephen Smyth has spoken specifically about New Hope, saying it was time the Queensland State Government got off the fence and approved the continuation of the mine.

"The CFMEU in Queensland is equally disillusioned and disappointed by the inaction of the State Government on New Acland," Mr Smyth said.

"We have grave concerns for the current workforce at New Acland whose jobs are in immediate danger if the Government doesn't act now.''

Mr Smyth said if the mine did not have certainty of approval, there would be further redundancies as we continue to ramp down activities at the site.

Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio

 

"Surely this is the last thing the Premier needs as the state claws its way out of the economic mess created by COVID-19."

Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio said it was unacceptable that a good corporate citizen such as New Hope would have to wait more than a decade to get a green light to expand the mine. He says New Hope has already demonstrated its capacity to return mined land to agricultural use.

"And I am a farmer and someone who has studied agricultural science and what they have done with the rehabilitation of land at that mine is impressive,'' he says.

"If you want to see what mining can do, look at the some of mullock heaps around Moura.''

Cr Antonio says New Hope has proven itself a good corporate system, contributing to the success of the local community.

For Emily Peacock, the plight of the Acland mine is personal.

Her diesel fitter husband Mitch was laid off last year as the mine wound down, and he's now a fly-in, fly-out worker in Moranbah.

With three kids, Emily says the family just wants Mitch back at Acland and the family back together again.

"We feel as if we are in limbo,'' says Emily.

"This mine has been good for our community for so many year and we just want it to keep on providing the jobs that keep us all going.''

Mitch and Emily Peacock with the youngest of their three sons, 22-month-old Oakley. Picture: David Martinelli
Mitch and Emily Peacock with the youngest of their three sons, 22-month-old Oakley. Picture: David Martinelli


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