Council to appeal mining decision

THE Whitsunday Regional Council will appeal a court decision which has ruled against the former Bowen Shire Council.

The matter had been in the courts since 2007 with mining company Xstrata making a complaint about the amount it was being charged in rates.

Last Friday, the highest court in Queensland ruled that rates should be calculated on the value of a property and not on the capacity (or wealth) of the owner to pay.

In late 2006, the Bowen Shire Council was among a number of local authorities which engaged Morton Consulting Services to review the rates paid by mines to their shires.

The Morton report identified as an option that differential rate categories be established for mines.

The Bowen Shire Council believed that a higher rate for coal mines should be imposed because, among other things, people who own land on which coal mining is carried out are likely to have the capacity to pay the proposed differential rate.

As a result, the rates on a number of properties associated with the Collinsville and Newlands mines were increased by about 400 per cent.

The new half-yearly bill, for the period from July 1 to December 31 in 2007, to Xstrata Coal and its associates was $481,000.

The companies paid “under protest” so they could get a $44,000 discount for prompt payment and indicated they intended to appeal the validity of the rates notices.

A Supreme Court judge initially ruled in favour of the Bowen Shire Council but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision on Friday.

In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, Justice Catherine Holmes and Justice Richard Chesterman found in favour of the mining companies and ruled that the rate notices issued by the former Bowen Shire Council be set aside. The three judges ruled Council had unlawfully taken into account the personal ability to pay rates.

“The trial judge decided the application on that basis, concluding that personal capacity to pay was not irrelevant to the decision making process,” the Court of Appeal said.

“In that he was, with respect, mistaken.”

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor, Mike Brunker, has described the appeal decision as ridiculous and said it could have ramifications for every Council across the state with a coal mine in its area.

He said it could affect the current Council's budget by up to $600,000 this year.

Cr Brunker said Council would definitelty be appealing the decision and that the local Government Association would be helping with the legal fees.

“We are fighting for the rest of Queensland on this one,” he said.

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