Queensland’s “hamstrung” Land Court should be given the power to make final decisions on mining projects to avoid wasting time and money, the State Government has been told.
In a letter to the Queensland Government, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has pointed out the Land Court currently performs an administrative rather than a judicial role, which has “tied the court’s hands”.
“The Land Court has been hamstrung in its powers to resolve appeals because it can only make recommendations,” EDO solicitor Sean Ryan said.
“A lot of time and money is spent by all parties in the Land Court process on mining matters but it still only results in an uncertain recommendation.”
The EDO is representing community members and landholders in the Land Court battle over New Hope Coal’s proposed coal mine expansion on the Darling Downs.
Mr Ryan said during the hearings, it was revealed the Land Court did not have the power to control proceedings by ordering costs or ordering disclosure of relevant documents.
“Disclosure is of particular concern to our clients who tend to be community members and landholders because it’s the mining companies and departments that hold all the information,” he said.
“It’s not fair for the community to be kept in the dark.”
Process raised by Member of Land Court
Member of the Land Court, Paul Smith, who is presiding over the New Hope case, referred to issues with the process during hearings earlier this month.
He described it as “an enigma wrapped in obscurity led by uncertainty … which leaves a sour taste in my mouth”.
Mr Smith said he was considering publishing comments about the process in his findings.
“Regarding the process, the cost, the aspects of whether it should be a proceeding or not … or whether it should all be thrown out and follow another state’s process,” he said.
Mr Ryan said giving the Land Court power to make a final decision would make sure decisions were “fair, fast and final”.
“Most parties would benefit from a final decision not just a recommendation,” he said.
‘Ministers will never give up powers’
Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Michael Roche said the EDO were the architects of the strategy of using the Land Court to disrupt and delay mining projects.
“No minister, no government is going to fully cede to a court the power to say yes or no to a major project,” he said.
Mr Roche said the EDO was suggesting a model similar to the existing Planning and Environment Court.
“The question for the EDO is, do they also go along with the fact that ministers have call-in powers for non-mining projects where the minister makes a decision and there’s no right of appeal?” he said.
“I would have thought there would be a lot of people on their side of the debate who would question the wisdom of going in that direction.”
Mr Roche said the tribunal system that was in place until 2007 worked to minimise cost and complexity and should be reinstated.
Topics: courts-and-trials, land-clearing, mining-environmental-issues, federal—state-issues, qld, toowoomba-4350
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