In the wake of the Adani Carmichael coal mine’s overturning of its environmental approvals, Tony Abbott has labelled the move ‘sabotage’.
In a case led by the Mackay Conservation Group, represented by the Environmental Legal Centre EDO NSW, Federal Court justice Anna Katzman set aside the federal approval granted on 24 June 2014.
Principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the decision was based on a failure by federal environment minister Greg Hunt to regard conservation advice about two endangered species, the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.
Abbott has said this demonstrates that courts can now be used to sabotage projects.
“As a country we must, in principle, favour projects like this,” the Prime Minister 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.”
To add to the miner’s woes, the Commonwealth Bank yesterday announced it had withdrawn from its advisory role in the project.
Abbott said while people had a right to take legal action,
“If a vital national project can be endlessly delayed, if the courts can be turned into a means of sabotaging projects which are striving to meet the highest environmental standards, then we have a real problem as a nation,” he said.
“We can’t become a nation of naysayers; we have to remain a nation that gives people a fair go if they play by the rules.”
His comments were supported by the Minerals Council of Australia, which stated it was a timely warning about the risks posed to the economy by ideologically motivated campaigns to halt mining projects.
“New projects must be treated on their merits, not held up by vexatious and incessant legal appeals lodged by a small band of anti-mining protestors funded by overseas interests,” MCA chief executive Brendan Pearson said.
“Future investment in the sector will be at risk if projects continue to subject to interminable delays. The gaming of the environmental approvals processes by a handful of protest groups now borders on the farcical.
“The inevitable dividend from continuing green sabotage is fewer jobs, lower real wages and lower living standards. The tiny anti-mining movement does not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of Australians.”
The NSW Minerals Council echoed these statements, with CEO Stephen Galilee adding: "“It's vital that assessment of coal projects is based on science, facts and evidence, and not jeopardised by activists utilising legal technicalities that are turning Australia into a global investment laughing stock."
"Our political leaders need to accept their responsibilities and act in the national interest, rather than constantly changing the assessment process to pander to noisy activists intent on stopping any development at any cost."
This is not the first time Australian leaders have looked to restrict opposition to mining.
Queensland recently took steps to reinstitute aspects of a mining opposition bill following its overturning last month.
In July Queensland’s Palaszczuk Government removed the former Newman Government’s bill preventing certain objections against mining proposals, after Queensland passed its new controversial Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill.
The bill was noted for its ability to restrict who could oppose mining applications on what was termed ‘philosophical’ grounds.
Previously any person or group could object to applications, whether they were directly affected by the operation or not, forcing the matter into the Land Court.
At the time QLD deputy premier Jeff Seeney said "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”.
Current minister for natural resources and mines, Anthony Lynham, said the “State Development and Public Works Organisation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 would meet an election commitment to restore objection rights stripped away by the previous LNP government”.
“This Bill is the first step towards delivering on our election commitment to restore community objection rights removed by the LNP’s Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014.
“Most importantly we have stepped in to restore these rights before the LNP’s laws have had any practical effect. No project has proceeded under the LNP’s laws.”
Lynham went on to state the focus was on restoring the balance between economic development and the rights of landholders and local communities.
Now the QLD Government is reducing the scope for opposition to mining projects and development.
Lynham has now stated he will look to implement time limits on cases in the Land Court.
He voiced concern that major projects, and investment, in the industry could be negatively affected if there were no limits in place.
“Everyone deserves the right to have their objections heard,” Lynham said.
“But I do have concerns, which is why I want to address them with the Attorney-General [Yvette D’Ath].”