Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Adani back in court over Qld coal project

The Morrison government’s assessment of Adani’s scheme to pump Galilee Basin floodwater to its Carmichael coal mining project is being challenged in court.

October 6, 2020

Adani is back in court over its controversial scheme to pump Galilee Basin floodwater to its Carmichael coal mining project in central Queensland.

The Indian mining giant wants to build a pipeline to “harvest” 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River to clean coal and suppress dust at its mine site.

The Australian Conservation Foundation says the Morrison government made an error of law when it initially assessed the yet to be approved North Galilee Water Scheme.

It should have applied the “water trigger” legislation, which assesses the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on aquifers and rivers.

The government’s view was the environmental law trigger wasn’t applicable because the scheme doesn’t involve the extraction of coal, it supplies water.

There’s also a different company proposing it – Adani Infrastructure – to that building the coal mine, which is Adani Mining.

But ACF lawyer Neil Williams SC says both are clearly subsidiaries of the Adani Group and the NGWS is ultimately part of the mining process.

“It calls into question how wide the definitions of coal mining activity and the action involving large coal mining development are,” he told the Federal Court in Sydney on Tuesday.

Mr Williams said Adani registered Adani Infrastructure in 2015 after Adani Mining’s initial water plans, which included the NGWS, were scrapped in 2014.

“By using a different proponent and not including the coal mining for which the water will be devoted, Adani claims that for which originally formed an integral part of its coal mine proposal no longer involves coal mining,” he said.

“We say that having regard to the (law), that can’t be right.”

But Adani lawyer Stephen Lloyd SC said the scheme is just “a very large plumbing project” involving pumps and a pipeline.

“It’s not a coal mining activity,” he said.

Mr Lloyd said the legislative trigger to assess the scheme was dependent on the proposed actions to be performed.

“The water is for the purpose of a mining operation but … the action here doesn’t involve mining,” he said.

“Supplying water is not of its nature a coal mining activity.”

He said the mine had already been approved and the NGWS was a piece of infrastructure to provide an alternative source of reliable water as a backup.

Mr Lloyd said there had already been a significant assessment completed for taking the same amount of water from the river system in a different spot.

But Mr Williams retorted the new version of the scheme was created to lock in greater water security for Adani during droughts.

He said it would have consequences for downstream communities and farmers if approved.

Adani says the NGWS will only pump water when the Suttor River is in flood and flowing at a rate of more than 2592 megalitres a day.

It will pay for what it uses after farmers have taken what they need.

The company also said the water trigger was applied to the Carmichael Mine and Rail Project through the Environmental Impact Statement process in 2014.

Adani first submitted its plan for assessment in 2018. The federal government decided it would review the scheme’s impacts on threatened species but not water resources.

ACF then launched legal proceedings arguing the government had made an error of law by not applying the water trigger and not properly considered some of the thousands of public comments made in response to the scheme.

The government conceded in 2019 that it had not properly reviewed the comments but it didn’t concede it had made an error regarding the trigger.

The hearing continues.

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