Up to 200 jobs in danger as coal stores set to run out right before Christmas

ORDER COAL: David Kassulke, LNP leader Deb Frecklington and Scenic Rim MP Jon Krause. Photo: Larraine Sathicq
ORDER COAL: David Kassulke, LNP leader Deb Frecklington and Scenic Rim MP Jon Krause. Photo: Larraine Sathicq

AS many as 200 Beaudesert workers could be out of work by Christmas if the AJ Bush and Gelita rendering and gelatin plants cannot find alternative sources of coal.

The plants use coal from the Darling Downs New Acland mine but approvals for its expansion are bogged down in a legal battle with local farmers.

The last New Acland coal was supplied in October.

AJ Bush & Sons Queensland manager David Kassulke said the company had only about 14 days worth of coal left and while they had not given up the search, they had difficulty finding enough fuel to keep the plant operating.

"We were told we could get coal from Newcastle but the cost was about $1.5 million a year more than what we were paying," he said.

"We halved our coal consumption four or five years ago in the belief that we would still be running for another 30 or 40 years.

"I don't want to be the bearer of bad news but there's nothing wrong with the truth and the truth is that people will be unemployed as a result of this."

Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said his department was unaware of jobs being at risk.

"I'm advised that the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning has been working with these companies to help them source alternative supplies of coal and that neither company has advised the department of any imminent plans to close or cut staff," he said.

"On the New Acland Stage 3 project specifically, it has received significant community interest and has a protracted legal history.

"My Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy has been diligently assessing the mining leases and the associated water licence applications."

Mr Kassulke turned up to a meeting with Queensland LNP leader Deb Frecklington on Monday carrying a poster depicting a WWI horse and cart and the message: Order Coal Now.

"Who would have thought a century on and it's a struggle to get coal on the back of the cart?" he said. "We have employees, sub-contractors and apprentices with wives and children to think of."

The Queensland Court of Appeal had approved stage 3 of the mine, but Oakey farmers on Monday announced they would take the fight to the High Court of Australia.

Farmers from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office said the mine expansion threatens prime farmland and water supplies.

The LNP's Campbell Newman government rejected the mine in 2012, saying it was inappropriate to expand mining in such a food producing area.

The High Court move relates to an Appeal Court decision which found a Land Court decision over the mine was affected by apprehended bias, but nevertheless allowed the mine to proceed.

Environmental Defenders Officechief executive David Morris said Acland residents deserved clarity on decisions that affected their homes and livelihoods.

"Our clients are fighting to protect some of the best agricultural land in Australia, and seeking to have a say over effects on their precious groundwater.

"...Usually a finding of apprehended bias would invalidate the whole judgement - in this case that did not occur. Our clients case is that that decision was not made in accordance with law."

Mr Morris said the farmers and residents of Acland deserved a fresh hearing in the Land Court.