Court setback for anti-Adani campaign

Traditional owner Adrian Burragubba outside the Brisbane Supreme Court.
August 25, 2017

Activists opposing the proposed megamine that Indian miner Adani wants to build in central Queensland have suffered two legal setbacks in their quest to block the mine.

On August 25, the Federal Court dismissed the appeal by the Australian Conservation Foundation against the federal government’s approval of Adani's Carmichael coalmine.

The appeal was based on the threat to the Great Barrier Reef posed by the coalmine. Section 67 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 prohibits actions that would have, or are likely to have a “significant impact” upon declared World Heritage properties; National Heritage places; and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage property and a National heritage place.

However, the court found that the Environment Minister had properly considered the impacts of climate pollution from the mine on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and that the environment laws cannot stop the government from approving Australia’s biggest coalmine.

Members of the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people, represented by elder Adrian Burragubba, who have a native title claim over the proposed site of Adani’s Carmichael mine in the Galilee basin, lost an appeal on August 22 against an earlier Brisbane Supreme Court ruling that the granting of leases in the area was lawful. But Burragubba and the W&J people said they would continue to fight against the Carmichael coalmine.

Lawyers for Burragubba argued the W&J people were denied natural justice because they had not been given adequate opportunity to address the state government on native title issues relating to the proposed Carmichael site.

Adani and the Queensland government argued the traditional owners had not objected to the mine in the Land Court under the terms set by the Mineral Resources Act 1989. But Burragubba countered they should have been approached for comment as they had an ongoing native title review in the High Court.

But the court ruled the government had not approved the mine on the basis that native title had been “extinguished” but rather because a native title claim would have no impact on the mine’s approval. In denying the appeal, Justice Philip McMurdo said it had not proved the minister’s approval was averse to their native title claim.

Outside the court Burragubba said: “The Queensland Government and Adani must understand that they are not in the clear. We still have an appeal in the full bench of the Federal Court which challenges the minister's authority to have issued those leases and completely disregarding our refusal to consent to the Carmichael project.

“We are not done yet. We will exhaust all legal avenues in our fight for our rights and to protect our country. Adani cannot move on the critical infrastructure for the mine until they can get us out of the way. We have further litigation challenging their fake ‘land use agreement’ in the Court, with a hearing date set for March 2018.”

Adani issued a statement following the court ruling saying the project would have vast financial benefits for the W&J people who support the Indigenous Land Use Agreement with Adani.

“The most likely people to be harmed now by further law fare ... is not the project, which has considerable momentum, but the right of the majority group to realise a benefit,” the statement read.

Queensland Resources Council boss Ian Macfarlane also welcomed the court ruling. “For every year, the Adani Carmichael coal mine project is delayed, Queensland misses out on $185 million in royalties, which would pay for 2900 extra nurses or 3350 extra police officers or 3400 extra teachers,” he said.

Both the Adani and Macfarlane responses amount to a mouse’s roar. The project’s “considerable momentum” has stalled due to lack of financial support. The lower price of coal and India’s shift towards renewables mean that the project is likely to become a stranded asset. The royalties referred to by Macfarlane do not exist due to the government’s gift of deferred payments

While further legal challenges in the High Court are still awaiting decision, the movement in opposition to Adani is growing. Protests have been held in recent weeks in Townsville and Brisbane targetting Adani’s offices and those of likely contractor Downer. Arrests were made.

The campaign is currently organising a series of summits in Queensland regional centres, Brisbane and Sydney to plan the next steps in the campaign. The focus so far has been on direct action. This has successfully prevented Adani from securing financial support from the Big Four Banks.

The campaign has also been directed at the Queensland and federal governments to rule out a loan under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund for construction of a rail link between the Galilee Basin and Abbott’s Point port facility. However, as Adani continues to have the support of both the Coalition and Labor, to defeat Adani and put an end to all new coalmines in Australia, mass demonstrations will be needed along with the lobbying, direct action and legal tactics.

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