Federal court overturns Govt approval of Carmichael coal mine

The Federal Government’s approval of Adani’s Carmichael mine in North Queensland has been overturned by the Australian Federal Court due to impact it would have on endangered species.

The court ruled that the Abbot Government’s approval of what would be Australia’s largest mine was invalid because the environment minister, Greg Hunt, failed to take heed of his departments own advice on the mine’s impact on two vulnerable species; the yakka shrink and the ornamental.

In response to the court’s decision, the Abbott Government has said it will take six to eight weeks to reconsider its approval of the Carmichael coal mine.

The decision leaves Adani without legal authority to begin construction.

In recent months the mining company has halted engineering work on preparations for the mine as well as slashed its workforce numbers on the project, leading to speculation it was preparing to abandon the project completely.

Adani said in statement that the federal court ruling against the mine was a ‘technicality’.

“It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the federal environment department had exposed the approval to an adverse decision, Adani is confident the conditions imposed on the existing approval are robust and appropriate once the technicality is addressed,” it said.

The location of the Carmichael mine - image courtesy of Adani Mining.
The location of the Carmichael mine. Click the image to enlarge – image courtesy of Adani Mining.

Adani estimates the 60 year project at the Carmichael mine would create 10,000 jobs and generate $22b in taxes and royalties.

Principal solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, Sue Higginson, helped to lead the case for the NSW conservation group against Adani.

She said the environment minister decision to ignore advice from his own department about the endangered species hurt the Government’s case for the approval of the mine.

“This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the minister’s decision,” she said.

“The conservation advices were approved by the minister in April last year, and describe the threats to the survival of these threatened species, which are found only in Queensland, The law requires that the minister consider these conservation advices so that he understands the impacts of the decision that he is making on matters of national environmental significance, in this case the threatened species.”

Chief executive of the Queensland resources council, Michael Roche, said the court’s decision was a dark day for the progress of mining projects such as Carmichael, and that foreign investors such as India may be put off by the subsequent stalling of projects.

“It’s a very dark day for all those who were counting on the swift go-ahead to the Galilee basin projects, in particular Carmichael,” he said.

“The clock is ticking on this project, (Adani) have been at it for nearly five years, there is not unending patience for projects like this and New Delhi is watching very closely what’s happening in Australia.”

The federal courts decision against the Adani mine follows its decision in 2013 that then environment minister Tony Burke had failed to properly consult his department’s advice on the impact of the Shree Minerals mine on the Tasmanian devil, in similar fashion to current environment minister Greg Hunt with the Carmichael mine and its endangered species.