On December 15, the Queensland Land Court recommended the giant Adani-Carmichael open-cut coalmine be given the go-ahead in central Queensland subject to several conditions including the protection of the endangered Black Throated Finch.
The hearing was prompted by a number of objections to the mine, including from the conservation group Land Services of Coast and Country.
The group objected to the mine on the basis of its impact on groundwater and groundwater-dependent ecosystems, particularly the Doongmabulla Springs Complex and Mellaluka Springs Complex; its impact on biodiversity; its potential to cause environmental harm to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area; and the contribution that burning the coal from the mine will make to climate change. It also claimed the mine is not economically viable and approval of the mine is contrary to the public interest.
The $16.5 billion mega mine — the biggest coalmine in the world — was designated by the Queensland government in 2010 as a “significant project”. This was supposed to have allowed the mine's approvals to be fast-tracked.
But growing opposition from local Aboriginal communities and conservation groups has meant that despite state and federal government support, the mine project looks to be endangered.
Last March, the Mackay Conservation Group challenged Adani in the Federal Court over its failure to protect two threatened species — the Yakka Skink and the Ornamental Snake.
At the time Adani, with the agreement of the federal environment minister Greg Hunt, withdrew its application. Hunt set aside his decision but on October 15 announced he had given it the go-ahead.
The approval includes a government-funded 189 kilometre rail link from the mine to the Queensland coast. Adani wants to transport coal to the Port of Abbot Point for export, principally to India. It also wants to expand Abbot Point to raise its capacity, which is the subject of other litigation.
Final federal approval can only be determined after Adani submits a groundwater plan and other pending court cases being bought against the company have been determined.
The state and federal governments are determined to assist Adani in any way they can.
But opponents of the mine are equally determined.
Traditional custodians and conservation groups oppose the proposal to build the biggest open cut and underground coal mine in the world for several very sound reasons.
Its enormous scale — 2.3 million tonnes of coal a year for 60 years — will impact negatively on the local and regional environment, and with an estimated 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over its life span, the mine will be a major contributor to climate change.
On November 9, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) lodged papers in the Federal Court arguing that Hunt had failed to consider whether the impact of burning coal and climate pollution would be consistent with Australia's international obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
ACF president Geoff Cousins said the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act indicates that the minister must not act inconsistently with Australia's responsibilities under the United Nation's World Heritage convention and that this was what he was doing by agreeing to the Carmichael mine.
In addition, the Wangan and Jagalingou People rejected a Indigenous Land Use Agreement proposed by Adani for the granting of the mining lease.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people applied in 2004 for recognition of their native title for an area north-west of Emerald in central Queensland. Part of the claimed area includes the land on which the mine is proposed.
The National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) has registered the Wangan and Jagalingou People's native title claim over 30,000 square kilometres of central Queensland, but the application has not yet been decided.
Registration of their native title claim gives the Wangan and Jagalingou people a right to negotiate in relation to government decisions that may affect their native title interests, such as the granting of a mining lease.
Adani applied to the NNTT for determination of a grant of a mining lease under the Native Title Act. The Tribunal determined on April 8 that the mine could proceed under the future acts regime of the Native Title Act. The Wangan and Jagalingou people have appealed this determination to the Federal Court.
Wangan and Jagalingou elder Adrian Burragubba told CAAMA Radio on January 5 he is comfortable waiting until February when the Federal Court is due to decide. He said he had been reassured by both federal and state governments that they would not grant environmental approval for the mine until his appeal is resolved.
He also said if he was unsuccessful, he would take his appeal to the High Court.