The Federal Court has overturned Commonwealth approval of Australia’s largest ever coal mine which had been planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin and would have caused increased shipping and carbon emissions to impact the Great Barrier Reef.
Indian company Adani is seeking to develop the $16.5 billion Carmichael mine but has been beset by a series of setbacks over recent months as the global appetite for Australian coal wanes and the environmental and economic impact statements the company advanced were called into question.
The mine is seen as crucial to opening up the Galilee Basin as Adani has been tipped to finance vital rail infrastructure, allowing other mines to follow.
If developed as proposed, the mining of coal in the Basin could see the release of more carbon emissions than entire nations like the United Kingdom, Italy, and South Africa.
The company has been slowly pulling the plug on contracts to engineer and build the Carmichael mine after a promise from the former Newman state government to subsidise the rail line was dropped by the incoming Palaszczuk Labor government.
A five week case in the Queensland Land Court earlier this year has also damaged the company after it emerged the job creation figures it used to sell the project to government were likely to have been overstated by a factor of around ten. It was also alleged the corporation would effectively pay no tax.
The Federal Court case, which it emerged this morning had led to the cancellation of Adani’s Commonwealth environmental approval, was brought by the Mackay Conservation Group, which was represented by the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).
Sue Higginson, principal solicitor of EDO NSW said “the decision of the Court to set aside the Carmichael mine’s federal approval was based on a failure by the Minister to have regard to conservation advices for 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,” Higginson said.
The case’s other line of argument – that Hunt should have had greater regard to emissions that would be created once the coal was burnt in third party countries and this would damage the Great Barrier Reef – does not appear to have had an impact on the Federal Court decision.
The win follows a letter sent by the Environmental Defender’s Office Queensland on behalf of the Australian Conservation Society on July 17 urging the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to reconsider the approval in light of the Queensland Land Court case, which also revealed new information about other endangered species not previously considered.
The Principle Solicitor at the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office told New Matilda this morning that the Federal Court win is “very significant because the mine now has no Commonwealth authority to commence construction or operation”.
“It doesn’t have its state authority and it doesn’t have any commonwealth authority,” Principle Solicitor at EDO Queensland Jo-Anne Brag said.
Bragg also revealed that “EDO Queensland, on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation has written to Greg Hunt [again]today bringing important information to his attention about the environmental history of Adani, and about employment, corporate tax and the economic costs or benefits of the project”.
Adani has previously been sanctioned by Indian authorities for breaches of environmental law.
Bragg said that Adani “doesn’t need to lodge a fresh application” in light of the Federal Court decision but Minister Hunt “does have to go back and consider correct materials” in relation to a range matters relevant to national environmental law.
“We say on behalf of ACF that he does have to consider material that came out of the Land Court case on economics and jobs and corporate tax, precise information, and also he does need to consider more thoroughly the environmental history.
“If Hunt has been relying on what was in the Environmental Impact Statement on, for example, employment, the letter EDO Queensland has sent corrects the employment figure by reference to what Adani’s own experts said during the Land Court case.”
New Matilda will bring you updates as this story unfolds throughout the day.
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