Judge slams New Acland Coal with stunning rebuke

AN ELEVENTH-hour plea to table a report that could unravel a court battle to block a major Darling Downs mine expansion has been met with a stunning rebuke from a Queensland judge.

In a late-night sitting of Queensland's land court last night , Member Paul Smith granted New Acland Coal's application to admit into evidence a favourable report on the impacts Stage 3 of the Oakey site could have on groundwater.

But he berated the mining giant for making the request long after the required deadline and warned the company risked contempt of court proceedings for suggesting to the media that it was not to blame for holding up the controversial project.

Lashing out at media reports which allegedly included quotes from NAC staff and claimed the judge's personal leave had contributed to the delay of the case, Mr Smith said he had in fact cancelled family holidays, held late-night sittings and missed important personal engagements to try to get the matter resolved.

He said that leaving aside the personal blight on his own reputation, he believed NAC had brought the court into disrepute.

He said he was prepared to sit back until the early hours of the morning to allow NAC time to argue why it should not face contempt of court proceedings.

The fiery sitting marks a critical turning point in the case which has seen 60 landowners and environmentalists take on the company over its mining lease approvals.

The report at the centre of the controversy was commissioned by the Federal Government.

In it, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on coal seam gas identifies a number of uncertainties should the project go ahead but finds risks could be reduced and mitigated if recommendations such as the monitoring of bores and wastewater treatment plants are adhered to.

The Oakey Coal Action Alliance wanted the court to block the report from being tendered, arguing that among other things, it would allow NAC "further bites of the cherry" that had not been afforded to them.

Despite his concerns about NAC's actions, Mr Smith allowed the report to be admitted into evidence on the grounds all parties had the chance to respond and call fresh witnesses so long as the evidence related directly to its contents.

The next hearing will take place in April.

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