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Miner skirmish: Courts deliver a hand grenade to Qld Government

Business

So here we are again. Three years after the last federal election and the Labor is in pretty much the same position it blundered through last time.

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Back then it was the approval of the Adani mine _ which the Palaszczuk Government was clearly delaying for political reasons _ that caused such a huge electoral upheaval in central Queensland and proved to be a crucial factor in the return of the Coalition Government and the question from a returned Prime Minister: How good is Queensland?

Now we have the recommendation from the Land Court last Friday to approve, with conditions, the Acland coal mine expansion.

The recommendation isn’t the end of this saga that has gone on more than a decade, not by a long shot. It’s probably the beginning of the end, but there is still a lot of political blood to be spilled on this issue and quite few recriminations to be dealt out.

For several years the Palaszczuk Government has been stalling the Acland expansion’s approval claiming it needed to clear the courts. It’s arguable that was not the case and it was simply delaying a decision hoping that either the courts would kill it off or New Hope would pack up and leave. The courts are no longer in the equation (for now).

It seems there is little chance that the Government can play the Adani obstruct-and-delay game because it’s unlikely it can be that stupid twice. 

But if it grants the approvals to Acland how will that play out in the cities? How will the Left faction deal with it now that Jackie Trad is no longer there to provide backbone? And the CFMEU mining division, which provides so much support in central Queensland, will surely be a considerable factor.

Currently, the Palaszczuk Government’s policy is that if a project stacks up socially, economically and environmentally then it will be approved. It gives them some wiggle room, but not much.

However, it’s not just Labor that has to ask itself some hard questions.

The activists hate it when I mention this, but the decision on Friday by the Land Court exposed a fundamental flaw in their strategy. A decade after they produced the plan to obstruct and delay approvals of the thermal coal mines they have failed to stop the two most targeted ones: Adani and Acland.

Meanwhile, the big carbon emitters, like the State Government’s Stanwell and CS Energy, the aluminium sector in Gladstone, the 50 or so metallurgical mines in the Bowen Basin have got off scott free. You would barely know they were an issue.

There have been some major wins, though. The development of Adani and New Hope’s projects were slowed down considerably and it was probably the case that Adani had to scale back the project because the campaign prevented them getting financing. It also cost the company millions.

Other mining companies probably thought it was all a bit too hard as well, but that is really unknowable. And the campaign has added to the ESG impetus in the markets.

So, there were wins and they were significant and it’s important environmental groups aren’t blamed for the failure. They are, after all, not the ones who make the rules.

But if they fail to adapt their strategy they will get nowhere in the future. The issue over the past week of the publication of some damaging video relating to the activists’ behaviour at the Adani site is also something they should debate.

There is no guarantee that New Hope’s Acland expansion will go ahead and if the company’s board looks over the Land Court decision they may find there is a significant criticism about how they handled the community complaints. 

Lacklustre, was the word used. And the court clearly said New Hope “may never recover its social licence in the Acland community”.

For a company in such a contentious industry that is poison.

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