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Nov 9, 2015

Something’s fishy: Carmichael mine faces Great Barrier Reef challenge

The Australian Conservation Federation has launched a court challenge against the government's Carmichael mine project, saying the mine could harm the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian government is facing yet another legal challenge to the Carmichael mine project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, with the Australian Conservation Foundation launching a case in the Federal Court this morning.

In October, the Australian government again gave mining giant Adani approval to build the $16 billion Carmichael mine and rail project in central Queensland, two months after approval was set aside by the Federal Court because Environment Minister Greg Hunt had failed to comply with the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to consider the impact on threatened species, in particular the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.

A new challenge to the minister’s approval, brought about by the Australian Conservation Foundation, will argue that Hunt failed to consider the impact on the coal burned from the mine on the Great Barrier Reef. The coal from the mine would result in emissions of 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the life of the mine, and the ACF argues that Hunt failed to consider the effect on the World Heritage Values of the Great Barrier Reef from emissions from the mine’s coal.

ACF boss Kelly O’Shanassy told Crikey the case would be historic because no one had challenged the mine on the grounds of Australia’s international obligations for the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s unlike the other cases that have been brought up against the Carmichael Coal Mine, and we think it is a really important thing to test because we have international obligations for the reef, and climate change, which is the major element of our case in that this mine will be one of the biggest in the world, and the biggest in Australia,” she said.

“It will produce an enormous amount of pollution, and that pollution will make climate change worse, and climate change will affect the reef. We feel [Hunt] has not adequately looked at his World Heritage obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and he has those obligations under environmental law. That’s what we’re testing.”

According to the application to the Federal Court, seen by Crikey, there are four grounds for the case, including the Great Barrier Reef claim. Two others relate to the characterisation of emissions from the coal mine, and the final ground is whether Hunt failed to adequately consider the impact of the project on the black-throated finch.

Under former prime minister Tony Abbott the government had passed legislation through the House of Representatives that would gut section 487 of the EPBC Act by removing the ability for public interest litigants such as conservation groups to challenge approvals in court, despite the fact that there had only ever been two successful challenges for applicants with standing under the EPBC Act. The legislation now sits in the Senate but is not listed for debate this week.

O’Shanassy said that if the legislation passed it would make it harder for an organisation like the Australian Conservation Foundation to get standing in cases such as the one it has filed today.

“The environment can’t stand for itself, and can’t speak for itself, so the act essentially says that environment groups working on these issues are able to speak up for the environment … we should be able to prove standing [under the current act], but [the amendment] would certainly make it harder. It certainly makes proving standing the first hurdle we need to get over.”

O’Shanassy says taking on legal action is a big step for environment groups given the cost involved.

“Even ACF, one of the largest environment groups in the country, had to think about this carefully, and we had to, of course, have very sound legal advice and look at all of the risks. These changes are all put in place to try to make it harder and harder for environment groups to make these difficult decisions,” she said.

“It’s about the fair implementation of the law, and we don’t think the minister has done that in this case, so we feel it is our responsibility to challenge that because this mine will have such devastating impact on the reef and on Australia’s environment.”

The case could last between three and six months.

It’s unclear now whether the Turnbull government will still proceed with the legislation limiting the ability for environmental groups to challenge projects such as the Carmichael mine in court. A spokesperson for the Environment Minister did not respond by deadline.

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11 comments

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11 thoughts on “Something’s fishy: Carmichael mine faces Great Barrier Reef challenge

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    There’s almost always something fishy about your ‘analyses’ Josh, so your article shouldn’t raise much interest outside the Crikey Committed, should it.

  2. Jaybuoy

    Playing the man again Norman..

  3. Venise Alstergren

    We feel {rhyming slang (Hunt)} has not adequately looked at his World Heritage obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

    Dearest Guy Rundle, Greg Hunt couldn’t even look over his own shoulder, let alone energise himself over the environment. It takes work, doncha noh?

  4. Venise Alstergren

    PS; I grovel. My comment should have been directed at Josh Taylor.

  5. Norman Hanscombe

    Dearest Venise, if you genuinely believe “Greg Hunt couldn’t even look over his own shoulder”, you would appear to have gone somewhat downhill since I first read one of your more measured earlier Posts. The extent of whatever is debilitating you seems to have also caused you to fall back on the sorts of juvenile rhyming ‘naughty’ slang which caught on only with the less talented youngsters in primary school; but if it gives you a vicarious thrill, I guess you won’t want to do anything about that either. Will you.
    P.S. grovelling isn’t needed by you on Crikey threads, because they love you and your ilk.

  6. leon knight

    Hello ACF – put out the call for crowd-funding if you are not sure about your financial strength to fight this case.
    There are many people ready to put up some hard-earned to force the Federal government and big Coalface up to the environmental consequences of their “rape and pillage today, disappear tomorrow” style of business.
    And Norman can enjoy his investments dwindling as their business case goes down the gurgler…..

  7. JennyWren

    Leon they already have

  8. JennyWren

    Just look at how well those villagers in Brazil are faring

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    Jenny Wren, having watched villagers in Brazil (and elsewhere) more than three decades back as they lived desperate existences, such as crawling in and out of primitive beehive structures to earn a pittance from the low grade iron produced in their ‘furnaces’, I’m possibly at least as well-informed as are you about that part of the planet?
    It takes little skill or ability to sympathise with them, however it takes much more to understand the situations over there.

  10. Roger Clifton

    In the past, we have tended to concern ourselves with domestic emissions, and leave unquestioned the ultimate consequence of our (lucrative) carbon exports. However, we must eventually face the fact that global emissions require global responsibility, so the precedent is welcome.

    However, the same judgement applied to our coal exports must apply equally to our gas exports as well. Whereas the responsibility for CO2 emitted from our coal or gas might be shuffled off to the user country, it would be harder to wriggle free of our responsibility for methane emissions from LNG ships at sea.