Green activists gave Labor MPs a playbook on how to overturn approvals for Adani’s coalmine in closed-door meetings late last year, days before the Queensland government ordered a controversial review into the black-throated finch.
The Stop Adani Alliance, which includes GetUp and the US-funded Sunrise Project, threatened to ramp up a campaign against Labor in critical marginal seats nationwide if the federal opposition “sits on the fence’’ over the proposed Carmichael mine in central Queensland.
Activists said they provided Bill Shorten’s frontbench with legal advice detailing how a future Labor government could revoke Adani’s approvals, which had been secured over seven years of assessment, and successfully defended in the courts.
A briefing note given to federal Labor MPs in December, and obtained by The Australian, details the “legal mechanism’’ to stop the project on the back of any new information relating to water or the habitat of the endangered black-throated finch, near the mine site.
“Under s145 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), a future environment minister could revoke an approval on the grounds that there is new information about the significant impacts from the mine,” the briefing said. “We are advised that new information in relation to water impacts and the habitat of the black-throated finch provides legally valid grounds for revocation.”
The note cited polling in Queensland seats affected by coalmining — Herbert, Dawson and Capricornia — that suggested voters would back a government decision to review mine approvals if it were framed as protecting groundwater. “The Stop Adani Alliance is scaling up and is already door knocking in over 60 electorates and calling into marginal seats,’’ the briefing said.
“GetUp have made it clear that they won’t be able to stand by if Labor ‘sits on the fence’.’’
A day before the Canberra meeting with federal Labor, anti-Adani activists met Queensland Labor Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch and her director-general of regulation, Dean Ellwood, to accuse the Indian conglomerate of breaching its approvals. Mr Ellwood ordered an unexpected external review of Adani’s black-throated finch management plan later that week.
Mr Ellwood’s choice to lead the review was Melbourne University professor Brendan Wintle, who has publicly criticised governments for sacrificing isolated patches of habitat to build mines.
Dr Wintle’s report recommended sweeping changes to Adani’s finch-management plan — submitted after 18 months of consultation with the state Environment Department — that have now stalled the project.
Last week, Queensland’s Resources Investment Commissioner, Caoilin Chestnutt, told Indian media that Adani’s approvals process was “an absolute mess’’ that might take another two years to finalise.
The week after the Canberra briefing by anti-Adani activists, opposition environment spokesman Tony Burke warned there were “a series of problems with this project”, including that the Coalition government had not “applied the water trigger”.
On Sunday, Mr Burke stepped up his attack, saying he had “deep problems with the way the Liberal government has handled the environmental approvals’’.
“I do not believe the government has appropriately followed the law from what I have seen,” he said. “I will apply the law.”
Mr Burke’s spokesman would not confirm if the minister attended the December 5 briefing with the activists, but a statement was issued quoting Mr Burke saying he often received unsolicited legal advice “pushing one opinion or the other”.
Ms Enoch said yesterday of the meeting: “The focus of the conversation was on groundwater, and not the black-throated finch. I advised that, as the minister, I would not involve myself in regulatory decisions, which are the responsibility of the department.”
As the federal election looms, Labor has been increasingly split over the proposed $2 billion mine and rail project, which would unlock the untapped Galilee coal basin. Five other mines are currently going through assessments.
The review of the finch plan prompted Steven Smyth — state head of the mining division of the CFMEU, one of Labor’s biggest donors — to put the party’s MPs and candidates on notice to sign a pledge supporting Adani and the coal industry or face a union campaign against them.
Stop Adani referred The Australian’s questions to the Australian Conservation Foundation. A spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the briefing note given to Labor MPs.
“The majority of Australians want to see the Adani mine stopped and our climate, water and threatened species protected,” the ACF spokesman said.
“Adani’s coal mine will accelerate climate change, drain our precious water sources and threaten native wildlife. The majority of Australians want strong climate action. With a federal election looming, a key test for all parties is whether they will stop Adani’s polluting coal mine.”
Adani Mining chief executive Lucas Dow said yesterday stopping the Carmichael mind would increase global emissions.
“The reality is that other countries around the world have also got coal, so it’s not a matter of shutting down the Australian coal industry is going to solve of climate change,” Mr Dow told 2GB.
“The reality is if the coal doesn’t come from here it’s going to come from a lower-quality source somewhere else, so it’s actually going to be worse for the environment.”
According to Stop Adani’s briefing note, a future government could revoke Adani’s approvals “on the grounds that there is new information about the significant impacts from the mine”.
“Neil Williams SC and economist Saul Eslake advise that reviewing and revoking Adani’s approval would not incur compensation nor create sovereign risk,” the briefing said.
Stop Adani wanted Labor to vow from opposition that it would review Adani’s approvals and “if the evidence supports it … not hesitate to revoke it”.
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