The government's rush to pass a law to prevent environmental groups from challenging mining projects in the court seems to be centred around just one case -- Adani's Carmichael Mine -- and is despite the fact that there is no evidence that mining companies are under attack by "green lawfare". Attorney-General George Brandis announced yesterday the government would amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to remove a provision that allows third parties to launch court action relating to the act's environmental impact approval process. Brandis said the provision was "a red carpet for radical activists who have a political, but not a legal interest, in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects". Appearing on ABC's 7.30 last night, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane evaded questions on how many projects had been delayed or stopped by the legislation.
Leigh Sales: You’ve said project after project and that they are taking it to a whole new level. I did ask how many project approvals because I think it’s important for people listening to try to have some sort of factual sense to back up what you’re saying. So how many project approvals has it delayed? Macfarlane: Well, this is the first case in Queensland where there is a clear and deliberate pattern … Sales: … But I mean overall, because you said project after project? Macfarlane: Well, we’re seeing projects in NSW held up in environment courts for six and eight years. They are out of our jurisdiction. The issues relating to the EPBC Act in this specific case are in our jurisdiction and we are going to address it. So we have a common sense approach to environmental permitting in Australia. We have the highest level of environmental permitting in the world, we need to make sure the system works, and isn’t plagued by those environmentalists who don’t want to see any economic development in Australia.
The provision in the law, enacted in July 2000 by the then-Howard government, has been used 33 times in the last 15 years, according to an analysis by The Australia Institute. This is out of 5500 projects referred to the minister under the environmental impact assessment provision, with 1500 requiring formal assessment and approval. Of the 33 court cases, proceedings by third parties only related to 22 projects, meaning just 0.4% of all projects referred to the minister under the legislation were affected. The Australian Institute found that of the 33 actions, four were discontinued or resolved, six were successful in obtaining a judgment or orders in their favour. The institute said in just two of these cases did the third party achieve its desired outcome. Crikey asked Macfarlane's office if he disputed The Australia Institute's findings. We were directed to Environment Minister Greg Hunt's office and did not receive a response by deadline. The latest "successful" case listed by the institute was the Mackay Conservation Group's case against the government over the Carmichael coal project planned by Adani in Queensland. This court overturned Hunt's approval of the project because it found that the Environment Department had failed to adequately assess the impact of the project on the yakka skink and the ornamental snake (The Daily Telegraph was so incensed by these creatures it shamed them with photoshopped hard hats).