Conservationists and traditional owners have been floored by Queensland's decision to grant mining leases for Adani's mega-coal mine while two court challenges are unresolved.
The Queensland government has cleared the last major state hurdle for the Indian miner to proceed with its $22 billion mine – which would be Australia’s largest – rail and port project in the Galilee basin and at Abbot Point.
But even Adani says it won’t make a final investment decision on the project until legal challenges by “politically motivated activists” are concluded, and it has the last approvals it needs.
Two groups fighting the mine in separate court battles have accused the state government of a morally bankrupt backflip that endangers the Great Barrier Reef and trashes indigenous rights.
The Australian Conservation Foundation and The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) traditional owners both say Mines Minister Anthony Lynham gave assurances that no leases would be issued until their court challenges were resolved.
As recently as February, Dr Lynham said he wanted to “give certainty to Adani” and added: “Granting a mining lease in the presence of two JRs (judicial reviews), does not provide the certainty.”
The ACF questioned whether Adani or the coal lobby had pressured Dr Lynham to abandon his concerns about the courts possibly ruling against the project.
“Has he been pressured to go against his better judgment by Adani? It’s strange,” ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy has said.
The W&J people have gone to the Federal Court seeking a judicial review of a decision by the National Native Title Tribunal to issue leases associated with the mine.
“This is a disgraceful new low in the exercise of government power at the expense of traditional owners’ rights. Minister Lynham and Premier Palaszczuk should hang their heads in shame. History will condemn them,” community spokesman Adrian Burragubba said.
The ACF case is set down for a Federal Court hearing in early May, while the traditional owners are still awaiting a ruling by Federal Court Justice John Reeves, who reserved his decision after a hearing in February.
Queensland Resources Council acting chief executive Greg Lane praised Mr Lynham for staring down the activists’ “extraordinary campaign” to stop the Galilee Basin being opened up for coal mining.
In announcing the leases alongside the premier in Mackay, Dr Lynham said he’d carefully weighed up the challenges and benefits of the Carmichael project, and the benefits had won.
He said 200 strict environmental conditions would safeguard the environment, while ensuring a project that would generate thousands of jobs could proceed.
“We would encourage Adani to start (construction) as soon as possible, but that is a matter for Adani,” he told reporters.
The three leases issued for the mine site northwest of Clermont cover an area estimated to contain 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal.
The premier said the project would generate more than 5000 jobs at the peak of construction and more than 4500 jobs at the peak of operations.
“Up in Cairns, there’s jobs on the reef. Out here, there’s a big project which is going to generate jobs and the two can coexist,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
Green groups have roundly condemned the decision, saying the mine will fuel global warming and compound threats to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, amid one of its worst coral bleaching events on record.
“Protecting the reef and approving the Carmichael mining lease are diametrically opposed. You cannot do both,” Greenpeace reef campaigner Shani Tager said.