Australian state leader intervenes to approve coal mine
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian state government leader intervened on Wednesday to fast-track a proposed coal mine days after voters rejected tougher action to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the country’s general election.
The Carmichael mine proposed by India’s Adani Mining in Queensland state was a bitterly polarizing issue ahead of Saturday’s national election, which returned the conservative coalition government for a third three-year term.
The election result defied opinion polls that suggested the center-left Labor Party would win government and implement its policies of slashing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. The coalition had committed Australia to a target of 26% to 28% in the same time frame.
Queensland’s Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she wanted a time frame agreed to by Friday to deal with the two environmental hurdles that are holding up the mine, which promises to create thousands of jobs in an economically depressed part of the state.
She said her own department would intervene by having the state coordinator-general attend a meeting on Thursday between Adani and the state environment department to set time frames for the approval processes for the miner’s plans to manage a local finch population and groundwater.
“The coordinator-general has the powers to coordinate this process and, frankly, this needs to happen,” Palaszczuk told reporters.
“I sense the frustration of the community. I’m frustrated. I think everyone’s had a gutful of this,” she added.
Labor lost all its seats in coal-rich Queensland outside the state capital, Brisbane, in the national election.
“I think the federal election was definitely a wake-up call to everyone. I hear that message,” said Palaszczuk, who faces a state election next year.
Adani chief executive Lucas Dow said his company had been asking the Queensland government for “clarity of process and timing” of approvals for environmental management plans for seven months.
“Any time frame for a decision on these outstanding management plans longer than the next two weeks is nothing more than another delaying tactic by the Queensland Labor government designed to delay thousands of jobs for regional Queenslanders,” Low state in a statement. “The Queensland Labor government has been reviewing these management plans for over two years now.”
Queensland Resource Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane, a mining industry advocate, said the deadlines for Adani’s environmental approvals “must be set in stone.” Adani had already been going through the approval processes at the state and federal levels for nine years, Macfarlane said.
The federal government quietly gave its final approvals to the mine days before the election was called on April 11. Once the election was called, the government became a caretaker administration that could make significant decisions only with the opposition’s approvals.
The government had accused Labor of sending mixed messages on Adani’s future, talking up the importance of more mining jobs while campaigning in Queensland, and the importance of renewable energy while campaigning in Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
A Queensland newspaper, Sunshine Coast Daily, attracted widespread condemnation for publishing on its front page on Monday a photograph of Palaszczuk framed in the crosshairs of a gun sight under the headline “Anna, You’re Next.”
The newspaper reported that the swing against Labor in the general election pointed to the Labor state government being ousted in the state election next year.
The newspaper apologized on Wednesday for the image, saying it did not condone any sort of violence against women or politicians.
Palaszczuk said she accepted the apology, “but it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been confronted with.”
The Adani mine was initially proposed as Australia’s largest mine, costing $16.5 billion and creating 10,000 jobs. But the plan has been scaled down after dozens of banks refused to finance the mine and Adani decided to use its own money.
Labor’s call for more action on climate change was popular in some parts of Australia.
Former conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott was voted out of the Sydney seat he has held since 1994 in a campaign that focused on greenhouse gas emissions. The seat was won by independent candidate Zali Steggall.
As prime minister in 2014, Abbott repealed a carbon tax introduced by a Labor government.
Labor was also hurt by Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money advertising against Labor. No candidate for Palmer’s United Australia Party was elected, but a vote-swapping dead he struck with the government boosted the government’s vote.