The topic was broached in late February at a hearing of the federal senate’s inquiry into “Certain aspects of Queensland Government administration related to Commonwealth Government affairs”. The inquiry was established in September last year to investigate the conduct of the Queensland Government that was led by former Premier Campbell Newman from March 2012 until January 2015.
At the hearing, Queensland Greens treasurer David Keogh and local resident Luke Daglish called into question the decision by former Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development and Trade Jeff Seeney to “call in” and subsequently approve Barro Group’s Mount Cotton Quarry extension project.
Despite endorsement from both state and federal governments, the local Redlands City Council twice rejected Barro Group’s request to extend the life of its quarry by a further 50 years after the development application was tabled in 2011. Barro Group took the matter to court, and upon the council’s request, the state government stepped in as arbiter in September 2013.
Seeney gave Barro Group's application the green light to proceed in December 2013.
In presenting the case against Seeney’s decision, one of the issues Keogh raised was community concerns that dust from the quarry extension project would harm residents.
However, Barro Group’s Queensland general manager, Ian Ridoutt, stated that a “substantial interrogation of dust matters” had already been undertaken, including an independent study by the Queensland Government’s Air Quality Sciences, Science Delivery Division. “The results of the study were clear and conclusive that the [quarry extension project was] able to meet and operate at emission levels well below the safe levels set by the relevant authorities,” he said.
Ridoutt also rebutted claims that the quarry could potentially lead to flooding of the surrounding area. “It is not a difficult concept to appreciate that if you dig a hole that captures water in times of heavy rainfall and release it in a controlled and gradual manner after the rain stops, any potential flood impacts are greatly reduced,” he stated.
Another concern Keogh touched on was the quarry’s extension into koala habitat and the project’s potential negative impact on the species. Ridoutt told Quarry he was actually pleased the topic had been mentioned. “[Protection of koalas] was one of the most important objectives of the quarry project,” he said.
He explained that the existing quarry – which has been operating since the 1960s – and the quarry extension area would only occupy 28 per cent of the total 243ha landholding. Although he conceded some of the best rock available on the site was co-located with some of the best koala habitat, Ridoutt stated that the final quarry extension area had been deliberately positioned on land that had already mostly been cleared.
“Over 100 acres [40ha] of cleared farming land will be rehabilitated and over 50,000 new koala food trees will be established,” Ridoutt added. “We used a company with specialist local koala knowledge to do our investigations, which showed that as a result of our plans, the koala carrying capacity of the property would double over the life of the quarry.”
Question of demand
The crux of Keogh’s argument was that he did not believe there was enough demand to justify the quarry extension, even though it had been identified as being of state significance and protected through the Queensland Government’s Key Resource Area legislation.
At the hearing, Keogh said, “[There] is another quarry up the road [from Mt Cotton Quarry], which tells me that the majority of its product – anything up to 95 per cent – goes outside of the Redlands-Logan area. So we cannot even see the need for that quarry. There are seven blue metal quarries …within 45km of Redland city. Why it was decreed to be of a state interest poses a significant issue with us … It seems to me that, no matter what hurdles, what arguments the community and experts put up against this quarry, which is so close to residential development, it is the mining and quarrying interests of this state that take precedence.”
Ridoutt said the argument was shallow and shortsighted. “[It] does not look deeper into the long-term need of the communities in southeast Queensland for quarry products,” he explained. “The demand for quarry products is about 11 tonnes per person per year, and based on state government agency population growth forecasts, Redland and Logan city councils alone will need 350 million tonnes of quarry materials in the next 50 years.”
Ridoutt described the demand as “staggering”, noting that the Mt Cotton extension project would only be able to supply about 45 million tonnes of the aggregate that would be required.
He also noted that the project would result in further benefits for the local community, including the creation of 50 full-time jobs, and the spending of $30 million during construction and $400 million over the duration of the project’s life with local businesses, contractors and in wages.
When asked what progress had been made on the project since it was approved in December 2013, Ridoutt said a new, “environmentally sophisticated” wheel loader had been acquired for the operation, and that a team of engineers had also been working to develop a new crushing plant for the extension, with the final design expected to be approved within the coming weeks.
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