The Queensland Labor government has paved the way for the huge expansion of coalmines in the Galilee Basin.
New Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on March 11 that a deal had been made with Adani and GVK-Hancock to allow the dumping of dredge spoil from the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point in unused industrial land adjacent to the port.
Palaszczuk said the deal met her election campaign commitment to ban dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or in the Caley Valley Wetlands.
"I've always said I support the responsible and sustainable development of the Galilee Basin and Abbot Point, and the agreement we've reached demonstrates that,” she said.
India-based mining conglomerate Adani welcomed the announcement. Adani Australia CEO Jeyakumar Janakaraj said: "I welcome today's announcement because it demonstrates the priority the government has placed from the outset on ensuring economic development proceeds in Queensland subject to robust environmental standards.”
Current approval processes, however, do not provide for independent assessments of the environmental impact. Given the political support at state and federal government level for fast-tracking the expansion of the Abbot Point port facility, there is little likelihood that wider environmental considerations will be taken into account.
The expansion of the port facilities will turn the Great Barrier Reef into a shipping superhighway. Shipping restrictions are routinely flaunted, and penalties are weak. A Chinese coal ship was recently fined just $8000 for entering without a pilot a “no go” area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on New Year’s Day.
But the biggest danger to the reef is climate change. The expansion of the coal industry could seal its fate.
Selena Ward, lecturer School of Biological Sciences University of Queensland wrote for The Conversation: “If we want to keep the Great Barrier Reef in a good state, a broad range of policies should be urgently put in place to reduce Australia’s record high per-capita carbon emissions to a much lower level.
“Burning coal from all of the mines proposed for the Galilee Basin would result in an incredible increase in emissions. It has been estimated that it would be 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year compared to Australia’s total 402 million tonnes in 2010. In 2012, this was more than the annual emissions of any country excepting the top 6 emitting countries. Obviously this will dwarf any reductions planned by our current governments.”
The government’s green light for the expansion of coalmining in the Galilee basin is not only questionable on environmental grounds: it is dubious from a basic economic perspective.
Energy analyst Tim Buckley said the commercial viability of Adani’s Carmichael proposal – without government support – was “highly questionable”.
“The 60 per cent decline in coal prices over the last four years reflects significant oversupply and weaker than expected demand,” he said.
“Flooding the seaborne coal market with a further 30% increase in global supply is against Australia’s national interests.”
Adani has reportedly negotiated a $1 billion deal with the State Bank of India for the project. But financing from other international sources has not been forthcoming, due to associated environmental and economic impact.
More recently, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund, and one of the biggest investors in the coal industry, announced it was divesting from several fossil fuel companies, including Adani.
These concerns were shared by Greens Senator Larissa Waters, who said on March 11: “I’ve written to [the Australian Securities and Investment Commission] ASIC seeking an urgent investigation into which entity owns these massive projects threatening our Reef and climate.
“They appear to be handing over the safety of the reef to shell companies registered in Singapore and the Cayman Islands.
“Both Labor and the Liberals are wedded to coal, rather than transitioning to renewables, that they’re looking the other way on Adani’s murky ownership and taxation arrangements.”