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Queensland pushes Tony Abbott for urgent approval of mining projects

Protest Against Galilee Basin Coal Mining in Australia

Environment groups in Brisbane protest against the Galilee Basin coal mining project. Photograph: Greenpeace


Powered by article titled “Queensland pushes Tony Abbott for urgent approval of mining projects” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Thursday 12th September 2013 06.56 UTC

Queensland premier Campbell Newman has urged Tony Abbott to approve massive new coal projects in the state “as soon as possible”, despite a warning from the mining industry over the need to wind back developments.

Newman said he had been called by the prime minister elect to discuss the “blockers” faced by the Queensland government. He said he told Abbott “to get out of the way and let this government get on with taking the state forward economically”.

“I said without any hesitation that we need to see the massive Galilee Basin coal projects approved as soon as possible, because they will see thousands of jobs created over the next few years and billions of dollars investment in the state,” he told ABC radio.

The Galilee Basin region in Queensland is being staked out by the resources industry for large-scale coal exports. GVK Hancock Coal, a joint venture between Indian firm GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, plans to build two mines, a railway line and an expanded port at Abbot Point, near Bowen, in order to export coal by 2017.

Meanwhile, an $8.8bn mine and rail project from Waratah Coal, headed by the mining magnate and parliamentary hopeful Clive Palmer, has been approved by the Queensland government and now requires sign-off from the federal government.

The Queensland government this week also approved a $15bn LNG facility at Gladstone, demanding that the federal government make a decision within 30 days on whether to allow it. On Thursday, the Queensland government signalled a further expansion of mining, announcing a plan to develop the state’s reserves of uranium.

The incoming Coalition government has promised to create state-run “one-stop shops” for environmental approvals, with the aim of speeding up the process and cutting so-called green tape.

Conservationists are scathing about the idea, saying the states cannot be trusted to protect the environment. They point to multiple environmental effects from digging up the Galilee Basin, such as the threat to the Bimblebox nature reserve, home of the endangered black-throated finch. The proposed dredging and dumping of 85,000 cubic metres of seabed to expand the Abbot Point port has also raised concerns.

Carbon emissions from the amount of coal earmarked for extraction from the Galilee Basin would be significant, with Greenpeace estimating that 700m tonnes of CO2 will be emitted if all the mines are approved – more than the entire carbon footprint of the UK.

“In Australia, we expect everyone to go through the same transparent process whether you’re building a tourist resort or a coal port, no matter if you’re Clive Palmer or Joe Bloggs,” said Louise Matthiesson, a Greenpeace campaigner.

“Unfortunately Mr Newman seems hell bent on not only removing blockages but undermining fair process entirely. Simply put, no government from left or right should be pressured into threatening the Great Barrier Reef for the sake of a quick buck.”

There are also question marks over the economic – as well as environmental – impact of the mines, following the revelation by Glencore on Tuesday that it is ditching its $7bn Wandoan coal project in Queensland.

Speaking at an investor presentation in London, Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg said he was wary of creating oversupply in the market, given the falling global price of thermal coal.

A recent report by the research firm Citi predicts that China’s demand for coal could peak before 2020.

The director of the Queensland Resources Council, Michael Roche, told Guardian Australia that India was forecast to be a key market for thermal coal over the coming decade.

“China is an important market, but India will be the real growth market,” he said. “There is a real appetite for coal in India due to the millions of people there without electricity.

“Shutting down the Queensland coal industry will do nothing to help carbon emissions because these countries will just get thermal coal from elsewhere. It is for other countries to decide their own energy mix. We are very supportive of any move to end duplication of unwieldy and lengthy environmental processes, without impacting standards. We’ll certainly support a streamlining of the process.”

The Greens have reaffirmed their opposition to handing environmental approvals to the states, pledging to block legislation in the Senate.

“These mines would be the southern hemisphere’s biggest coalmines, and would destroy Queensland’s environment and make our climate insufferably worse,” said Greens senator Larissa Waters.

“Newman is a climate and environmental vandal, and Abbott’s one-stop-shop plan would put him in sole control of the environment. The Greens will use our numbers to block Abbott’s plan to hand federal environmental approval powers to the states.”

Both Palmer and Greg Hunt, the Coalition’s environment spokesman, declined to comment when contacted by Guardian Australia. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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