Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Statements by Senators
Queensland: Adani Carmichael Coalmine
Today, I would like to give praise to a decision made yesterday by the Queensland Labor government. It is not common, obviously, to give praise to other political parties, but I think it is worthwhile to give credit where credit is due. Yesterday, the Queensland government issued an environmental authority for the Adani Carmichael coalmine in the Galilee Basin. That is good news for Central and North Queensland, because these areas desperately need jobs and investment projects to get going.
The Adani Carmichael coalmine project has met all environmental approvals necessary at the state and federal levels—the federal environmental approvals were concluded last year. There is now no excuse not to issue this mine with a mining licence. The issue of a mining licence is controlled by the Queensland government and is the next step, but that next step no longer relies on any need for further environmental investigation or environmental approvals.
This mine is in a new area. It is in a largely unpopulated and undeveloped area of our country. Indeed, the closest town, Alpha, is more than 100 kilometres away. It is not a large town, in any case. Traditionally, since Europeans moved into the area, it has been used for raising cattle. It is not particularly productive land. There is no cropping in the area. It is probably the perfect place for a coal mine. Coalmines do disrupt the environment—that is why they require lots of environmental regulation—but of course we need to have jobs and a mining industry to keep paying for all the services we have in this country. We need to provide good, well-paying jobs for Australian men and women who may not want to go to university or who may not want to sit behind a desk all day but who want to work outside and do something with their hands. The mining industry provides that for such people. We need to make sure that we have a vibrant and productive mining industry in order to have a productive and prosperous economy and society.
This project will open up the Galilee Basin. It will be the first mine in that area. There are enormous amounts of good quality thermal coal in the region. It is more environmentally friendly than other sources of coal, particularly that from other countries such as Indonesia. We should get behind it and try to open it up. Obviously, though, being the first mover in multibillion dollar projects like this takes a lot at risk. This project amounts to a $16 billion investment. It is a hard decision for any business to make such a commitment up-front, particularly when it will be the first mine in the region. As the first one it will have to pay for the rail line and for upgrades to the ports without being able to share those costs with any other miners, at least in the short term.
However, as attractive and as welcome as this project is—bringing development and some investment to this region—I must say that the way these particular investors have been treated by our regulatory system is underwhelming and could be improved. The Adani proponent, the company behind this mine, initially applied for approval with the federal department on 22 October 2010. I believe they applied with the state government on a similar time frame. It has now been 1,930 days since 22 October 2010 and today, finally, we celebrate the conclusion of the regulatory approval process for the Adani coalmine. What country in the world would take more than 1,900 days to say yes or no to a $16 billion project? This is a massive project. This is one-third of the size of the NBN in one small and undeveloped part of our country. The project could open up something and create something new on the frontiers of our nation. It could see more people moving there—not just stacking up people in Sydney and Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Brisbane. We have taken nearly 2,000 days to say, 'Yes, we want you to come here and spend $16 billion.'
Obviously the patience of Adani has been tested over that period. There is no guarantee now that they will necessarily proceed with the investment that they have spent a substantial sum of money on already—it is obviously a very big decision to spend $16 billion. The coal market is very different from what it was back in 2010. If we had made the decision within two or three years perhaps there still would have been a very attractive coal market and coal price, and most likely the project would have proceeded. It is a very different decision to make. It is one that will, hopefully, still get a positive decision, but it is a lengthy process.
Part of those delays have been federal environmental laws and part of those delays have been changes of mind by the Queensland government about what it would do. They were going to dump the spoil from dredging the port offshore originally, then it was going to come onshore and then the Queensland Labor government promised at the last election that they wanted to move it and not put it onshore near the Caley Valley wetlands; they wanted to put it somewhere else.
I want to sidetrack onto the Caley Valley wetlands now, because have got to know the Caley Valley wetlands very well. They sound pristine, they sound wonderful and they sound like something that we would like to protect, but, in fact, the Caley Valley wetlands are artificial—man-made—wetlands. The wetlands were made in the 1950s by locals who wanted to shoot ducks. They built a bund wall at Abbot Point, and that helped stop the water from flowing out to the ocean and created a swampy wetland area attractive to ducks, and they shot them.
Fortunately for the ducks, they are no longer shot. However, apparently, according to the Greens and according to the Queensland Labor government last year, these wetlands are so important to protect. It is absurd that we protect a man-made wetland created for duck shooting over and above a $16 billion project that can create 10,000 jobs. It is kind of Kafkaesque. You could not write this stuff and be believed.
We do have an opportunity now to proceed, and to proceed we need this mining licence to be issued. I hope the Queensland government will do this and take this next step. I have been heartened by some of the comments from the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Anthony Lynham. He said last year, 'Everyone deserves their day in court, but not their four years in court.' I could not agree with him more. He is absolutely spot on. Indeed, these Green activists have had five years in court and there are still some court cases going on. Those court cases will not prevent the Queensland government from issuing a mining licence. They should get on with the job now and issue that licence as soon as possible so we can start restoring some of the investor confidence in this nation and show people that we are open for business. While we do have very strong and proper environmental laws in this country, we are not going to be absurdly creating the situation again where we take nearly 2,000 days to make an assessment of those environmental laws and regulations.
There are still groups in the country that are opposing this project. The Queensland Labor government seem onside. The coalition want to see it get ahead. Obviously, the Greens are never going to support a coalmine; they do not believe in any coalmining in the country. They would bankrupt our nation if they were ever in charge. The Greens support these strong environment laws. They have voted for them in the past. They have argued for them in the past. We have very strong laws in our country, and we should have strong laws in our country to protect the environment. But the problem with the Greens is that they support these laws and then, when the umpire makes the duly-considered decision under these laws, they turn around and say: 'No, we don't agree with that. We still want to ban the coalmines.' For the Greens, this is not about protecting the environment; it is about stopping a coalmine. It is not about protecting threatened species or native vegetation or the Caley Valley wetlands—which they never would have heard of before this process—it is about stopping a coalmine. It is all about stopping jobs in the mining industry, because they do not want any coalmining.
The Greens need to be asked why they are disputing the umpires' decisions, umpires that they have argued before—people like the independent expert scientific panel, which they argued for in the Greens-Labor government and they got established. That committee has said this project can go ahead, and then they turn around and disagree with that umpire. They need to be held to account for that. They need to be asked: 'If you don't support this coalmine, where would you support a coalmine?' Where do they think we are going to get our energy needs to provide not just for this country but for the entire world.
Where do they think we are going to get the high-quality coal we need to reduce carbon emissions in other countries? India is still going to build coal fired power stations. They are not going to care where the coal comes from. They are not going to say: Damn! We can't get that coal from Central Queensland. We're going to not build these power stations.' They are going to get them from Indonesia, and the ash content of the coal in Indonesia is much higher which will be much worse for carbon emissions which will be much worse for climate change. The Greens do not want to listen to those facts. They just do not like coalmining. They are ideological about it. They are not reasonable about it. I call now on the Queensland government to not listen to the Greens but to listen to the people of Central Queensland and North Queensland who want jobs.