Anti-mining protest bill may go national

Attorney-General George Brandis has announced plans to implement laws limiting anti-mining ‘legal loopholes’.

It comes in the wake of the overturning of the Adani Carmichael coal mine’s environmental approvals in Federal Court.

His comments follow Tony Abbott labelling the move sabotage by environmental and conservationist groups.

“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,” Abbott said at the time.

“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.”

Brandis’ stated his intention to tighten laws to make it harder for environmental groups who have a philosophical opposition resources projects to fight mining developments on legal grounds, using ‘vigilante legislation’.

He went on to say green groups are ‘gaming the system’, and are using ‘extremely loose language’ in environmental protection acts to exploit legal loopholes.

“I think the Adani case has shown why it’s important that the courts not be used as a forum for vigilante litigation by people whose aim is to game the system, who have no legitimate interest other than to prosecute a political vendetta against development and bring massive developments – on which in this case some 2600 jobs depended – to a standstill,” Brandis said on Sky News’ Australian Agenda on Sunday.

“The people who challenged this are people who are determined to wipe out Queensland’s biggest industry: the coal industry.

“And no government can stand in the way, can sit idly by and let people do that.”

The Minerals Council of Australia’s CEO Brendan Pearson has previously outlined 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,” 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."

Brandis’ comments have been welcomed by the Queensland Resources Council, which went on to call “on those with skin in the game to help combat the activist campaign that is determined to destroy the coal and gas industries”.

Speaking to a Townsville Enterprise business breakfast this morning, QRC head Michael Roche said the industry is being stymied by activists, and if action is not taken then the nation will soon shut its doors to new business.

“The activists’ campaign to disrupt and delay new projects is real, and so we need help from everyone with skin in the game to combat the campaign against the coal and gas industries,” Roche said.

“It’s not just resource companies that have much to lose – everyone from the local communities, local businesses to the government coffers, have something to lose if the activists are allowed to continue to hold projects to ransom.”

He went on to support Brandis’ comments.

“Industry congratulates Mr Brandis for speaking out, especially for his Queensland constituents, but we need to remember it’s not just about fixing a loophole in federal legislation, it’s about both state and federal governments showing they genuinely support the resources industry and the jobs the sector can deliver,” Roche said.

“The laws are there to protect the environment and project approvals in Australia operate under ecological sustainable development rules, so it’s up to governments to properly balance the best environmental, social and economic outcomes.

“The legal loopholes that currently exist are being used to neuter the economic and social considerations.”

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 in last month, just prior to the successful opposition of the Carmichael project.

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 since reversed his position, stating 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.”

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has reportedly rubbished Brandis’ comments, stating “the law is there for a reason”.

“The attorney general as the chief lawmaker of this land is there to protect it, and shouldn’t regard environmental law as a nuisance or an inconvenience.”

In the meantime Adani continues to address the environmental concerns of its Carmichael project as they relate to the Ornamental Snake and the Yakka skink.

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