Although the Queensland government has granted Adani three coal licences to mine an estimated 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal in the Carmichael area, the company still faces several hurdles before it will be able to commence mining in the region.
Queensland’s Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Dr Anthony Lynham, on Sunday approved the licences for Adani for the $16 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project, claiming the government had put in place stringent conditions on environmental protection and landholders’ rights. Lynham said in a statement:
“The mine’s environmental authority had about 140 conditions to protect local flora and fauna, groundwater and surface water resources, as well as controls on dust and noise. A further 99 stringent and wide-ranging conditions apply to the rail and port elements of the project.”
The project will still need more approvals before it can get the go-ahead, including secondary approvals for rail, port facilities, power, water, roadworks and an airport. Adani still faces two legal challenges to the project.
The first is a native title case being brought against Adani by the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people. The National Native Title Tribunal in April 2015 determined that the mine could go ahead, but this is now the subject of an appeal in the Federal Court. A traditional owner and spokesperson for the people, Adrian Burragubba, said in a statement yesterday that the Queensland government’s decision to proceed despite the case being unresolved was “a disgraceful new low in the exercise of government power at the expense of traditional owners’ rights”. He said Lynham in October had sent a letter to W&J’s legal counsel stating he would wait for the matter to be resolved before making a decision on whether to grant the licences. Burragubba said the case could go all the way to the High Court:
“The minister may think this is the end of the matter, but for us it is just another chapter in the long struggle we have to get proper respect and protection for our rights under law, and ensure our sacred homelands are preserved for time immemorial. We have said no to the Adani Carmichael mine. And when we say no, we mean no.”
The second case, launched by the Australian Conservation Foundation in November last year after the federal government approved the project, challenges the mine on the grounds that the estimated 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted by the mine during its lifetime would have a huge impact on the Great Barrier Reef. ACF boss Kelly O’Shanassy told Crikey in November: “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.”
ACF spokesperson Josh Meadows told Crikey that like W&J, the ACF was surprised the Queensland government had approved the mine while litigation was ongoing: “We were surprised because Minister Lynham said in February that he was reluctant to go ahead with the mining lease while there was still judicial reviews outstanding.”
The Coordinator-General’s report into the environmental impact of the mine in 2014 argued that because the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is 320 km upstream from the project, it was unlikely to have “any direct impacts” on the reef, but the report admitted polluted water from the mine could end up in the reef. But Meadows says the ACF’s case is arguing that the impact the project will have on climate change will damage the Great Barrier Reef further.
“We’re seeing at the moment with the coral bleaching that is occurring on the reef, just how even small increases in temperature can have a devastating impact on coral,” Meadows said.
The ACF’s case is due to be heard in the Federal Court on May 3 and 4. The native title case was heard in February, but a judgment has not yet been released.
The ACF believes that if Parliament passes changes to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the ACF would still have standing as an environmental group under common law, but challenges to ministerial approval of projects would be tougher. The legislation to stop so-called “green lawfare” was introduced during the Abbott era, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is still planning on forging ahead with the legislation. It is still before the Senate, however, and there has been no indication from the government on when it plans to bring on the bill for a vote.
The other major hurdle facing Adani in getting the Carmichael mine project up and running is securing funding for the project. The Commonwealth Bank, NAB and ANZ have reportedly refused to fund it, while Westpac is also said to be hesitant to back the project.