It is plainly absurd. As things stand, a judge in an Australian Court apparently has the power to reject an economically vital multi-billion dollar Australian coal export project on the basis that burning coal in India may affect the world’s carbon dioxide levels and therefore possibly influence global warming and so, maybe, damage the Great Barrier Reef. That is the basis of the present ‘lawfare’ that is part of a dedicated campaign by environmental groups to destroy the Australian coalmining industry and sabotage the Australian economy.
That any local judge should be entrusted with the authority under Australian environmental law to determine such a contentious political issue is nonsensical; if our law really does empower judges to determine that Indian power-stations should be prevented from burning Australian coal (which is much less a pollutant than the Indian or Indonesian coal currently used), then it needs to be changed. And if no such authority does exist, political stunts seeking to misuse environmental law to pursue an anti-mining agenda should be promptly dismissed by the courts as vexatious litigation that is aimed not at winning, but at delaying, frustrating and adding huge costs and uncertainty – as well as introducing an unwelcome ‘sovereign risk’ element that damages Australia’s capacity to attract the overseas investment on which our economic prosperity depends.
The absurdity of a judge having such jurisdiction is the substantive issue that has not been resolved in the current furore over the Federal Court’s overturning, on a technicality relating to the subsidiary matter of a snake and a skink, the Abbott government’s conditional environmental approval of the huge Indian-owned Adani steaming coal project in Queensland’s Galilee basin. But this dangerous substantive issue will be pursued after the government corrects its bureaucratic error, approves the project once again and the greenies renew their challenge. As the Australian reported last weekend, this $16 billion project, its 10,000 jobs and its potential to generate huge government revenues, is likely to be delayed by continued litigation for another two years. And nothing the government has in mind has any real prospect of winning the legal warfare being waged by environmental groups; its proposal (doomed to defeat in the Senate) to remove rights of objection on environmental grounds from those not directly affected by a mining project (such as environment lobby groups) is little more than symbolic posturing, being easily avoided by environmental groups funding stooge objectors. And it unnecessarily raises questions of authoritarian over-reach by depriving Australians of a right introduced by the Howard government.
There can be no doubt about the determination of the greenies, both directly and by funding other groups like indigenous communities, to continue their legal campaign to block development of the Galilee basin, which has the potential to be a major export earner for Australia – unless the Indian investors and their financial backers give up in the face of these continuing legal challenges. In seeking to give a local legal environmental relevance to its objections, the Mackay Conservation Group (the nominal objector, located hundreds of kilometres from Galilee) claimed that ‘Given that climate change is the greatest threat to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef, the Minister should have considered greenhouse gas emissions arising from the burning of the coal by Adani in India, not just the emissions from mining the coal’ before granting approval. This issue of whether the courts really have jurisdiction to deal with the greenies’ political agenda (and thereby play along with their costly delaying tactics) is the key matter the government should be addressing.
In the meantime, mining industry leaders are properly concerned about ideologically motivated campaigns to halt mining projects at the cost not only of much-needed foreign investment but also of local jobs, wages and living standards: ‘The gaming of the environmental approvals processes by a handful of protest groups… requires governmental action’. At a time when Australia faces a difficult economic outlook and India (and free trade deals) provide a potential partial offset to the end of the mining boom, the government must do something substantive to put a stop to this destructive nonsense.