Revoking Adani mine licence a safe move for future Labor government, Shorten told
By Josh Robertsonabout an hour ago
Adani would get no compensation and find it “virtually impossible” to overturn a future Labor government’s decision to scrap its mining licence, according to legal advice provided to Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
The ABC has obtained the advice, which reportedly prompted Mr Shorten to push for a shift in Labor policy to withdraw federal approval of Adani’s Carmichael mine proposal “if the evidence is as compelling as it appears now”.
Businessman and environmentalist Geoff Cousins has told the ABC’s 7.30 program that after receiving the advice, Mr Shorten “believed that there was sufficient information at this point” for Labor to move towards scrapping the mine licence if it won the next election.
Mr Cousins, a former Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) president, said Mr Shorten had agreed to make the following public statement if he won over colleagues: “When we are in government, if the evidence is as compelling as we presently believe it to be regarding the approval of the Adani mine, we will revoke the licence”.
Adani has set up a regional office in the north Queensland city of Townsville, where the local council has stepped up security at monthly meetings following apparent concerns about escalating tensions involving anti-Adani protesters.
Earlier this month, tensions were high outside a Townville meeting that included Mr Shorten, who spoke of his misgivings about the Adani project.
In recent weeks, the Opposition Leader has hardened his stance against Adani, saying repeatedly he did not believe the project would go ahead.
At the behest of the ACF, Brisbane barrister Chris McGrath and the Environmental Defenders Office Queensland both provided the ALP with legal opinions that a future Labor government could call a halt to the mine project by revoking approval under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Dr McGrath told the ALP a future government would not have to pay Adani anything to do this, as revoking mine approval “would not be an acquisition of property that would require compensation under the Commonwealth Constitution”.
‘Virtually impossible to overturn’
Dr McGrath said a new Labor environment minister, under section 145 of the EPBC Act, could rely on the “substantial new information” about environmental threats and mine impacts since it was approved in October 2015.
He said a minister could call for a review of new information about impacts on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef, threatened species such as the black-throated finch, and groundwater ecosystems such as Doongmabulla Springs.
He cited 2016 research that showed efforts to lift reef water quality gave coral no protection from underwater heatwaves and bleaching.
Dr McGrath said that study’s lead author, coral expert Terry Hughes, would be “an appropriate expert to conduct this part of the review”.
He said that if the minister believed the mine would have a significant impact previously not identified, Adani’s environmental licence could be scrapped.
Adani could not legally challenge the merits of the decision, making it “virtually impossible to overturn” as long as the minister followed due administrative process “for instance by providing natural justice to Adani”.
“In the unlikely event that Adani attempted to proceed with the mine after revocation, there is no doubt that the minister could obtain an injunction under section 475 of the EPBC Act to prevent the mine proceeding without approval,” Dr McGrath said.
On Monday night, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg told Sky News he could legally scrap Adani’s licence “if [Adani’s] environmental claims don’t stack up, but there’s no evidence to invoke Section 145, and Bill Shorten knows this”.
Mr Cousins told 7:30 Mr Shorten’s response to the legal advice was: “Thank you very much, that’s very compelling and I’ll discuss it with my colleagues”.
“He has come back and raised certain issues with me since then but not that one,” Mr Cousins said.
Reef scientist Charlie Veron wrote to Mr Frydenberg last June calling for him to scrap Adani’s approval because two successive annual mass bleaching events on the reef since 2015 constituted “important new information”.
EDOQ principal solicitor Sean Ryan said scrapping approval would not create a “sovereign risk” — politically driven uncertainty for corporations — as it was “an application of existing law and policy to new factual circumstances”.
Mr Shorten’s office has been contacted for comment.
Last night, a spokesperson for the Opposition Leader confirmed to 7:30 Mr Shorten requested a meeting with the ACF and Mr Cousins for their views on the Adani mine.
“The visit renewed Bill’s convictions on the importance of protecting the reef and the environment,” the spokesperson said.
“It’s no secret that Bill is deeply sceptical of the proposed Adani coal mine. He believes if it cannot stack up environmentally or commercially, it should not go ahead. So far it hasn’t, and he doesn’t believe it will.”
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