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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Joe Hinchliffe

Queensland government rejects coal exploration licence in farmland close to Great Barrier Reef

Queensland’s resources minister Scott Stewart speaks to media
Queensland’s resources minister Scott Stewart says there was ‘significant adverse community sentiment’ about the proposed licence. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

The Queensland government has rejected a coal exploration licence north of Bundaberg, in an area of prime farmland and near a marine breeding ground for the southern Great Barrier Reef.

The move was welcomed by the region’s Liberal National party MP for Burnett, Stephen Bennett, who called on the mining department to go further and “kill off” the prospect of mining exploration in environmentally and agriculturally sensitive areas.

Bundaberg’s mayor, former LNP minister Jack Dempsey, and anti-coal activists also welcomed Tuesday’s decision and said it should not have taken so long to reject the proposal.

Speaking from Bundaberg, Labor’s resources minister, Scott Stewart, said he was refusing Fox Resources’ mining development licence, MDL3040, on the grounds of ​​public interest.

“There is significant adverse community sentiment about this mineral development licence,” Stewart said.

“This is particularly in relation to the potential negative environmental, agricultural and social impacts in the Bundaberg region.”

The licence would have allowed Fox Resources to explore for minerals within a certain area, with a further application being required before any mining could be permitted.

Stewart said the Palaszczuk government was a supporter of the resources industry, which he said created jobs and generated royalties that “fund teachers, nurses and police officers”.

But Stewart said each resources project was assessed “on its own merits” and Fox’s proposal had drawn concerns from the community, Bundaberg Regional Council and members of parliament.

Bennett, the local MP, went further, telling Guardian Australia the proposal had brought “huge fear and apprehension” for two years in an area famed for its macadamias, sweet potato and sugar cane farms.

Bennett said it had been a “long fight” and thanked the “community champions” who stood up to “big coal with deep pockets”.

“I’m on the record as saying: ‘Over my dead body would there ever be a coalmine in north Bundaberg’,” he said.

Though the LNP member said he “overwhelmingly welcomed” the state government’s decision, he was “surprised” it had been considered at all.

He said a coalmine in the area “would have been a disaster, not only for the environment but also for high-value irrigated agriculture.”

“It just beggars belief that they ever would have had a mining tenement capacity for that part of Queensland.”

Fox Resources was contacted for comment. The company has previously said any exploration of the area would involve drilling, with the holes being “the same as standard water bore exploration holes’ – which would then be “fully rehabilitated”.

“If a mining lease is applied for in the future all environmental issues will be addressed at that time,” the company said in 2021.

Bennett said he “100% supported” mining where appropriate, but called on the government to be “proactive” against future exploration in other areas where it was not.

“I would think the role of the mining department now would be to go through and find these tenements that are in such environmentally sensitive areas and kill ‘em off now, before someone applies for another MDL,” he said.

Dempsey, the mayor of Bundaberg, said his constituents would be “overjoyed” by the decision.

The former LNP minister has been a vocal opponent of the coal proposal, which his council has formally opposed.

Last month Dempsey hit out at the federal government as being “obsessed with coal”, which he said was out of step with his electorate.

On Tuesday, he said the state government’s decision would cement the Bundaberg’s reputation as “a clean, green, quality place”.

“The whole of the regional community is relieved,” he said.

“It’s just a shame that it has taken so long for this to come to fruition.”

Lock the Gate Alliance released a statement welcoming the “final nail in the coffin” of the plan.

Spokesperson Ellie Smith said the “drawn-out saga” was evidence that Queensland needed stricter laws to protect communities, prime agricultural land, and other priority areas from mining.

“This victory is testament to the ‘never give up’ attitude of Bundaberg locals, and we warmly congratulate the resources minister on listening to their views,” Smith said.

“But this is a battle the community should never have had to fight.

“There are some places that are too precious to mine – Fox Resources should never have been allowed to apply to mine in our food bowl just near the Great Barrier Reef.”

Smith said a coalmine could have also threatened the “world renowned turtle nesting grounds at Mon Repos”.

“Queensland desperately needs to strengthen regional planning laws to prohibit mining in prime farming land and areas of environmental and cultural significance,” she said.

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