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Legal win on Adani water project – a pyrrhic victory?

WBT has received a media release from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) claiming victory regarding groundwater to be used for the Adani mine . There are two water projects which both require State and Federal approvals.

1. The North Galilee Water Project which is a construction project to divert water from a nearby river and channel it to the mine. This got Federal government approval last year and Qld government approval the day before the recent federal election campaign started. Now this the one where the Federal Govt has conceded to ACF legal challenge which was initiated late last year (see Press Release below). This is because the Federal Government didn’t follow the process correctly it has to start all over again.

2. The Groundwater Management Plan which received approval from the Qld government on 13 June 2019 is required under the approval for the mining application. This relates to the impact of mining on groundwater, springs, impact on great artesian basin. The Wangan & Jangalingou people’s legal challenge can be seen as related to this because of the cultural significance of the Springs which will be affected by state government approval. The question is: Do all the waters come from the Great Artesian Basin? The rivers and wetlands are ultimately connected.

Adrian Burragubba (for Wangan and Jagalingou people) has been unsuccessful in his legal challenge to the Adani project on the basis of his people’s Native Title claim. On 12 June 2019 Adani was given permission by the court to bankrupt Adrian Burragubba for legal fees ($630K). Adani pays its lawyers well.

If the Environmental Defenders (EDO) Office (acting for the ACF) is ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the federal government’s water approvals we can expect big legal costs being awarded against them also. Each year people swim for the reef to raise funds for the EDO. Funds raised may well end up in Adani’s pockets. Surely that is not how we define justice.

WBT may be missing something but we can’t see a clear strategy being put forward by the various groups opposing the mines in the Galilee Basin. People engaged in direct action are facing millions of dollars in SLAPP suits from Big Coal. These are “strategic lawsuits against public participation” currently being used by Aurizon against people stopping coal trains. They are doing this with full support from state and federal governments and the courts.

What is the strategy given that both legal means and running candidates for election have failed and that there does not seem to be an industrial strategy to re-train fossil fuel workers to do sustainable jobs?

And just to complete the picture the Qld Council of Unions, under some pressure from the Greens and some sympathetic unaffiliated unions e.g. NTEU, have refused to adopt a policy on climate change. Such a policy is needed because it is the only way to have fossil fuel workers retrained into more sustainable industries.

So State and Federal governments have won the trifecta on the Adani issue at least. They have beaten opponents of the Adani mine in the courts, in the industrial arena and at the elections. Appeals for donations have come from various NGOs challenging Adani in the courts. This monies look destined to end up in state coffers, given the court’s willingness to charge opponents of the Adani mine with huge legal costs.

The curious thing is that so few people on the Left could foresee this as a possible outcome. The old recipes of a mix of rallies and some dabbling in the industrial and electoral cycle have proven fruitless. So will there be a re-think? Some effort for change of strategy?

Ian Curr
13 June 2019

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ACF wins legal challenge to Adani’s water scheme approval as Federal Government concedes case

Government concedes it failed to consider public submissions and even lost some submissions. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has won its Federal Court appeal against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme, with the Federal Government conceding the case, admitting it failed to consider public submissions and even lost some submissions.

“Once again this case outcome shows the Federal Government failed to properly scrutinise Adani’s proposed Galilee Basin coal mine,” said ACF’s Chief Executive, Kelly O’Shanassy.

“With this concession the government admitted it comprehensively failed to apply proper process when former Environment Minister Melissa Price assessed Adani’s plans to take up to 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River in outback Queensland to service its mine.

“The government conceded it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.

“It also admitted to losing submissions.

“The government is fundamentally failing to properly apply national environment laws to its approvals for Adani’s mine and has been ignoring deep public concern about the mine’s environmental impact.

“This raises questions about the influence companies like Adani have over governments in Australia. When a company wields such power that it can cause a Minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.

“The water trigger is in Australian law because water is scarce on our dry continent. It should be applied to every relevant proposal, including Adani’s plan to take billions of litres of Queensland’s precious water.

“The proposal must now go to the new Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, and be re-opened for public comment.

“We expect the Minister to listen to Australians’ concerns and prioritise their needs over the profits of big polluting companies like Adani.  

“ACF will continue to scrutinise all decisions around Adani’s proposal, including groundwater approvals that were rushed through on the eve of the election.”

The North Galilee Water Scheme (NGWS) is a critical infrastructure project to support Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine. The scheme proposes a 110-kilometre pipeline from the Suttor River, an ephemeral water source in central Queensland, to the mine site.

In deciding the assessment process for the water scheme under Australia’s national environment law, then Environment Minister Melissa Price elected not to apply the ‘water trigger’, a process designed to scrutinise the impact large coal and coal seam gas projects have on water.

In December 2018 ACF launched a case challenging the Minister’s failure to apply the water trigger to Adani’s pipeline proposal. In February ACF asked the court to include an additional ground in the case, relating to whether the Minister properly considered thousands of public submissions on her assessment of the water infrastructure proposal.

Today the Federal Government conceded the case.

ACF was represented in this case by the Environmental Defenders Office Queensland.

ACF
Stop Adani
12 June 2019

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