PASSIONATE: Tony McGrady has long been a supporter of the Queensland energy sector.
PASSIONATE: Tony McGrady has long been a supporter of the Queensland energy sector. Barry Leddicoat

Mayors, miners, lobby groups talk TerraCom

THERE'S no urgent tone of frustration when Tony McGrady speaks of environmental activism.

In his tempered Liverpudlian accent the former Mt Isa mayor, state mines and energy minister and speaker of the house showed no personal animosity for those in the anti-coal mining camp, despite his support for the planned reopening of the Blair Athol coal mine.

Instead, he conceded groups like Lock the Gate and the Mackay Conservation Group were "absolutely entitled" to express their concerns, including through the launch of Lock the Gate's petition against the project this week.

Earlier this year mining company TerraCom set about buying the Blair Athol coal mine for $1 from owners Rio Tinto.

While the sale is yet to gain State Government approval, TerraCom has set up a community consultative committee, which is a legal requirement in other states but not in Queensland, to keep the community up to date with the project.

Although Mr McGrady's Mt Isa home is more than 1000km away from Clermont, he agreed to chair the group. He'd stepped down as Mt Isa mayor in March, was of a disposition "that never stops" and remained motivated to share his enthusiasm for the Queensland energy sector.

He was also in good company. Until recently former Townsville mayor Tony Mooney was general manager stakeholder relations at TerraCom.

But Mr McGrady said he took on the role with one condition, that he chose who else sat on the committee.

After visiting Clermont and selecting a number of residents to make up the group, he then also appointed the Mackay Conservation Group's Peter McCallum.

The group met for the second time on Thursday, December 8.

"It's important you allow people who oppose the mine to ask questions," he said.

"I think everyone should have the right to ask questions. There's nothing to hide about this project."

For that reason he wasn't surprised when Lock the Gate, which has close links to the Mackay Conservation Group, launched a petition this week urging the State Government to block the sale.

"I never believed I would convince (Mr McCallum) to change his views. I accept the fact that these people are entitled to campaign as much as they like," Mr McGrady said.

"Every time you have a proposed development people are against it. But likewise I'm entitled to support it. I want to see a robust mining industry that provides jobs and wealth for Queensland."

However, Lock the Gate co-ordinator Rick Humphries is convinced the project will eventually burden taxpayers, and believes maximum job creation will be found through the mine's rehabilitation.

He also believes it is important to set a precedent that major mining companies, like Rio Tinto, are made to clean up the impacts of decades of mining, rather than offloading to others.

While Rio Tinto had offered to transfer $80m in cash to the State Government for the mine's eventual rehabilitation, Mr Humphries pointed out "this mechanism has never been tested".

He was not convinced, as Mr McGrady was, that creditors would not be able to seize it should TerraCom fail.

For these reasons, the Blair Athol transaction held Lock the Gates' focus above other coal mining deals, and was why the group launched the petition.

"We just need to maintain the pressure and keep the issue on the government's radar," Mr Humphries said.

However, the State Government has not yet accepted Rio Tinto's offer of an $80m transfer for rehabilitation work.

A Department of Environment and Heritage Protection spokesman said the government hasn't decided on the amount and form of financial assurance, and said this would happen if and after the mining tenure was transferred.

It would then review the environmental authority after TerraCom submits a plan of operations.

A Department of Natural Resources and Mines spokesman said it was continuing a rigorous assessment of the companies indicative approval of transfer application.

"As part of the assessment process, the applicant is required to demonstrate that it has the sufficient financial, technical and human resources necessary to safely and responsibly conduct the mining operation," he said.

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