UPDATED: ENVIRONMENTALISTS have had a big win in their case against Australia's largest coal mine after the Federal Court overturned federal environmental approval granted to Adani.
The Indian mining giant's environmental authority for the Carmichael mine in Queensland has been set aside after court action was taken by the Mackay Conservation Group, which alleged Environment Minister Greg Hunt had not considered department advice about two threatened species.
In a statement, the Environment Department said the decision to set aside the approval was a "technicality" and had been done with the consent of all parties involved in the case.
"Reconsidering the decision does not require revisiting the entire approval process," the statement said.
However, it will take six to eight weeks until it is reconsidered.
Threatened species halt project
Environmental Legal Centre EDO NSW, representing the Mackay Conservation Group, challenged the approval given by the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to the $16.5 billion project.
In a statement released this morning, Sue Higginson, principal solicitor of EDO NSW said: "The decision of the Court to set aside the Carmichael mine’s federal approval was based on a failure by the Minister to have regard to conservation advices for two Federally-listed vulnerable species, the Yakka Skink and Ornamental Snake. This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the Minister’s decision."
"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.
"The case also alleged that the Minister failed to consider global greenhouse emissions from the burning of the coal, and Adani’s environmental history, however these matters are left unresolved before the Court."
The mine is now without legal authority to commence construction or operate, according to EDO NSW.
"It will be up to the Minister now to decide whether or not to approve the mine again, taking into account the conservation advices and any other information on the impacts of the project."
Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Ellen Roberts in a statement said it is "astonishing and deeply troubling that it has taken a legal case by a small community group to bring the approval process under proper public scrutiny, and expose Minister Hunt’s dereliction of duty in fast-tracking the mine."
"The Federal Court decision to throw out Minister Hunt’s approval is a victory for land and water, biodiversity, the global climate and also for common sense," she said.
"We now call on Minister Hunt to see sense, honour his obligations, and take the opportunity he has been handed by the Federal Court to reject this disastrous project once and for all."
Technical legal error "regrettable": Adani
Responding to this morning's decision, Adani issued a statement saying it is "committed to ensuring its mine, rail and port projects in Queensland are developed and operated in accordance with Commonwealth and State laws and regulations, including strict environmental conditions."
"Adani acknowledges the Federal Environment Minister has consented to remake the July 2014 environmental approval decision for the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail project after a conservation group’s judicial review application.
"It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the Federal Environment Department has exposed the approval to an adverse decision.
"It should be noted the approval did include appropriate conditions to manage the species protection of the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
"However, we have been advised that, because certain documents were not presented by the Department in finalising the approval, it created a technical legal vulnerability that is better to address now.
"Adani will await the Minister and his department’s timely reconsideration of its approval application under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
"Adani is confident the conditions imposed on the existing approval are robust and appropriate once the technicality is addressed.
"Adani is in the fifth year of development and approvals and the need to finalise these approvals and timelines is critical so Adani and the community can realise the benefits associated with its investments to date including 10,000 jobs and $22 billion in taxes and royalties to be reinvested back into the community."
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said legal loopholes were paving the way for anti-coal activists to delay billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs in Queensland.
"It is preposterous that a technical administrative hitch could hold up billions of dollars in investment and thousands of desperately needed jobs," Mr Roche said.
"It’s time for our governments to step up and close the loopholes that enable these actions and the resulting negative impacts on our industry, not only in Queensland, but right across the country.
"For as long as these loopholes exist, highly motivated and well-funded activists will exploit them.
"Foreign investors do not have limitless patience as their projects are mired in a seemingly unending process of legal challenges."
More to come