The decade-long fight over the controversial Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland Coal (NAC) mine looks set to continue, with the Queensland Supreme Court disagreeing with an earlier Land Court decision that the mine should not be granted approval, a decision followed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES).
Prior to the latest legal decision, the mine’s owners, New Hope Group, have waged a prolonged campaign to influence decisions, policy and public opinion relating to the project. NAC’s campaign promotes messages that overstate their economic significance to the region. The company spent $1.2 million on media advertising in the twelve months to April 2018, in addition to traditional political lobbying, and ‘astroturfing.’
Astroturfing is a marketing method designed to give the impression of grass-roots community support through websites and social media pages managed directly by New Hope or their paid lobbyists. Relating to the New Acland mine, there is a Facebook page, an online petition and a ‘save regional towns’ website. All three give the impression of widespread community support for the coal mine but were actually set up by the coal company itself.
None of this marketing effort is directed at NAC’s customers, encouraging them to buy more of the company’s coal. Instead, it is aimed at the public, media and political decision markers; a clear sign of rent-seeking behaviour. Rent-seeking is the business practice of investing resources to sway political or administrative decisions that provide windfall financial gains rather than using resources to invest in productive activities. Indeed, if the mine was as economically and socially significant as claimed, its value would be clear and this campaign would not be necessary.
The Acland Stage 3 expansion has been shown to present significant risks to groundwater resources and the local community. This is unlikely to change in the near future, regardless of what the miner posts on Facebook or what its lobbyists tell the media.