By Emma Brown
August 13, 2015
TWO vulnerable species have brought the development of the controversial Carmichael coal mine to a halt.
The Federal Court set aside approval of Adani’s $16 billion Queensland mine after a legal loophole found Environment minister Greg Hunt had not fully considered the environment advice for the project.
Environmental Defenders Office NSW principal solicitor and Mackay Conservation Group representative Sue Higginson said the court’s decision was based on the minister’s failing to consider conservation advice related to two Federally-listed vulnerable species – the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
“This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the minister’s decision,” she said.
“The conservation advices were approved by the minister in April last year, and describe the threats to the survival of these threatened species, which are found only in Queensland.
“The law requires that the minister consider these conservation advices so that he understands the impacts of the decision that he is making on matters of national environmental significance, in this case the threatened species.”
The Greens Party welcomed the Federal Court’s decision, stating it was good news for the climate, the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland economy.
“Adani’s Carmichael coal mine plan would have been a climate disaster and reef destroyer,” Australian Greens deputy leader and climate spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said.
“This white elephant of a project threatened our tourism and agricultural industries and would have slowed down our transition to a clean energy economy.
“The future for Queensland is not the dying coal industry, which is shedding jobs, but renewable energy, which the Abbott Government needs to stop holding back.”
Ms Waters said it would be “crazy” for Adani to push ahead with the project, given the decline in coal prices and an overarching move towards renewable energy alternatives.
However Prime Minister Tony Abbot labelled the approval overturn as “green sabotage”.
“As a country we must, in principle, favour projects like this,” Mr Abbot told The Australian.
“This is a vitally important project for the economic development of Queensland and it’s absolutely critical for the human welfare literally of tens of millions of people in India.”
Mr Abbot’s comments were supported by Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche, who said the delaying tactics being used by activists were straight out of their playbook, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom.
“It is preposterous that a technical administrative hitch could hold up billions of dollars in investment and thousands of desperately needed jobs,” Mr Roche said.
“Adani’s environmental approval did include conditions to manage the protection of the yakka skink and ornamental snake, however due to an administrative error by the Commonwealth Department of Environment the approval has been set aside.”
The NSW Bar rebuked Mr Abbott’s claims of sabotage, stating that his comments showed a lack of understanding of independent role of the court.
“The courts exist to make decisions according to the law, not to further the interests of particular individuals or organisations, including government,” NSW Bar Association president Jane Needham told media. “They are an independent arbiter of disputes, and politicians need to understand and respect their non-partisan role.”
As a result of the overturn, the Commonwealth Bank terminated its role as financial advisor for the project.
Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis spokesperson Tim Buckley said the Commonwealth Bank’s move was a significant indicator for the future of the project.
“You’re only going to take an advisory role if you think the project is viable and going to go ahead,” Mr Buckley said.
“Banks aren’t just going to walk away from multimillion dollar fees on projects if they think they’re commercially viable and they endorse them.”
Carmichael would have been Australia’s largest coal mine, exporting up to 60 million tonnes of coal from across the Great Barrier Reef coast each year.