The Queensland Resources Council has told a Parliamentary hearing there is clear evidence linking anti-coal activism and litigation to the Queensland Environmental Defenders’ Office.
The comments come on the back of the hearing in to the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014, which seeks to modernise QLD’s resources legislation, implement a consistent restricted land framework, repeal the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers’ Superannuation Act 1989, reduce regulatory burden and enable greater use of CSG produced in coal mining.
According to the Bill“Queensland’s current legislative framework for the resources sector ….. is some of the most complex and lengthy resources legislation in Australia”.
“The duplicate processes and variances in the regulatory frameworks which fundamentally achieve the same administrative outcome result in unnecessary regulatory costs to the resources sector, landholders and government.
“This Bill implements the first stage of the MQRA Program by creating a common provisions Act [for] harmonised legislation.”
The bill was first raised in February, when the QLD State Government announced it would look at restricting who could opposed mining applications on ‘philosophical’ grounds.
As it stands any person or group can object to applications, whether they are directly affected by the operation or not, forcing the matter into the Land Court.
QLD deputy premier Jeff Seeney said the state would look to limit this ability, which he described as “frustrating for the Government.
"It's obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry – for whatever reason – to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects," he said.
"The people of Queensland have elected us as a Government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that."
These comments were echoed by Australian Coal Association chair Nikki Williams who stated that eco-activists are very active and make a lot of noise but were a relative minority of well-resourced, professional, internationally connected campaigners.
She said their mission to extinguish coal was derailing the energy/climate debate and distracting attention from the suite of solutions that need to be embraced.
"Many anti-coal activists are deluding the public about their real agenda. For them, development is the problem. They are really saying that energy consumption must be radically cut. But, that means accepting unfed mouths, uncured poverty and subsistence existence," she said in an address to the Sydney Institute.
Williams distinguished between extremist anti-coal campaigners and the protest activities of people who live in mining regions.
"There is an enormous difference between local people seeking answers and reassurance or expressing opposition to a particular course of action by a coal company and the actions of political campaigners, whose only objective, by whatever means and on the basis of whatever cause, is to extinguish the industry."
Campaigns to halt coal mining are on the rise throughout Australia, with some groups going to great lengths to destabilise the industry.
NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee has previously slammed protestors of mining, stating that they “have decided they have the divine right to protest, unfettered by the laws to which the rest of us are bound, and regardless of any risk to themselves or those around them”.
Professor of Institutional Economics at RMIT, Sinclair Davidson, has also declaimed protests against the industry.
“Many protesters are of the view that they have unlimited licence to protest. That once their intentions are self-declared to be noble that there can be no limit on their behaviour,” he said.
“The fossil fueldivestmentcampaign is a prime example. This is an internationally orchestrated, well-funded, and apparently sophisticated campaign against fossil fuel investment. Once you strip away the apparent sophistication of their argument you end up more or less with a call for a series ofsecondary boycotts of fossil fuel producers and their sources of capital.
“At the moment environmental groups areexemptfrom the prohibition on secondary boycotts. This is an astonishing exemption for a country that trumpets equality before the law,” Sinclair stated.
In QRC CEO Michael Roche’s opening statements to the hearing on the new bill he said the industry has seen numerous projects held up and slowed by ‘vexatious’ anti-industry litigation, which he stated was a direct abuse of Queensland’s objection process which was designed to allow for genuine landholder and community concerns to be raised.
“Ms. Bragg from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) said in her submission that there are no cases of vexatious objectors,” Roche said.
“This is the same Ms. Bragg who is particularly thanked for her contribution to the anti-coal movement’s strategy document entitled Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom that was leaked to the media in March 2012.
“In that document, several strategies are outlined to ‘disrupt and delay key projects. The very first strategy outlined is ‘litigation’. The document says: ‘We will lodge legal challenges to the approval of all the major new coal ports, as well key rail links, the mega mines and several other mines chosen for strategic campaign purposes,” he said.
He went on to say the document budgeted around $1.35 million for a litigation strategy to stop coal mining, much of which was focused on the Queensland Environmental Defenders’ Office.
“The EDO represented the so-called Coast and Country Association in its Land Court objection to the Alpha Coal project (a case that ran for about 15 months) and is representing Coast and Country in the judicial review of the Land Court decision on Alpha, as well as the current objection to the Kevin’s Corner coal mine,” Roche said.
“Who or what is the Coast and Country Association? Well they are in fact a front for the anti-coal activist group Friends of the Earth and their spokesperson is Friends of the Earth campaigner Derec Davies.
“True to the anti-coal strategy, EDO is also representing two environmental activist groups in court actions against the Abbot Point port expansion.”
He went on to give his support to the amendments in the bill that seek to clarify and streamline the objections process for mining leases without limiting or removing a right to object to a mining project.
“Communities and landholders remain important stakeholders and still retain a genuine opportunity to raise concerns over the project’s environmental impacts,” Roche said.
“The amendments will reduce unnecessary duplication in Queensland’s approvals processes.”
This Bill has previously been slammed by anti-coal seam gas development group Lock the Gate Alliance, who described the announcement of the new Bill as ‘despicable’.
Once again the LNP government is trying to curb the democratic rights of Queenslanders," Lock the Gate Alliance’s president Drew Hutton said.
"The Newman government and his bully-boy Jeff Seeney are trying to stop ordinary people and communities from protecting themselves against multimillionaires in the mining industries that are trying to make a quick buck and move on.
"It's ludicrous to suggest only landholders should have a stake in whether a mine that effects so many people should go ahead. The impacts on land, air, water and greenhouse gases go much further than the immediate landholders."
The hearings continue in to the new mining bill.
Image: Greg Presland