Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael

THE Federal Court has reaffirmed the legitimacy of the “water trigger” in Australia’s environment law and could throw into disarray Bravus’ plans to take 12.5 billion litres of water a year from Queensland’s Suttor River to service the Carmichael coal mine.
Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael Federal Court upholds 'water trigger' at Carmichael

Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act.

Under federal regulations, coal projects that extract a significant amount of water are required to submit a rigorous environmental impact statement. This water trigger was not originally applied to Carmichael's Water Scheme. 

On May 24 the court agreed with the Australian Conservation Foundation that the federal government made an error of law when environment minister Sussan Ley decided not to apply the "water trigger" to the assessment of Carmichael's North Galilee Water Scheme.

A Bravus Mining & Resources spokeswoman said the decision would not have any impact on the construction or operation of the Carmichael mine.

"We will now consider our options on the progression of the North Galilee Water Scheme and how we would like to proceed," she said.

"The issue considered by the Federal Court concerned the interpretation of certain sections of the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act.

"Regardless of today's court judgement, construction on the Carmichael mine and rail project is well underway, and importantly, the North Galilee Water Scheme project is not required for these construction activities.

"We have also secured water for the operational phase that does not require the North Galilee Water Scheme."

The North Galilee Water Scheme project comprises a water pipeline, pump station infrastructure and the expansion of an existing dam in the Belyando and Suttor River catchment to supply water to the Carmichael mine in central Queensland.

Federal resources minister Keith Pitt said the ACF's attempts to stop the Carmichael mine proved futile.

"Bravus, previously known as Adani, has indicated the ACF's action in the Federal Court will have no impact on the construction and operation of its Carmichael Mine," he said.

"While the court was asked to consider a decision related the North Galilee Water Scheme under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, the company says it won't have any effect on its operations.

"This is good news for the 2000 workers the mine has directly employed in regional Queensland and the billions of dollars of local contracts it's awarded.

"This is just another example of activists using the legal system to try and delay a major job-creating coal mine in Queensland."

ACF CEO Kelly O'Shanassy said the decision was a win for regional communities and farmers who depended on reliable flows of river water in the drought-prone landscape.

"This is a great win for the protection of water on our dry continent from coal mining and coal seam gas extraction," she said.

"It will set a new precedent that essential infrastructure for coal seam gas and large coal mining projects must be assessed under our national environment law.

"We expect the federal government to properly apply the law.

"Big mining corporations cannot be trusted to put our environment ahead of their profits, which is why it is so important the water trigger is applied to projects like Adani's."

"This decision raises more doubts about the viability of Adani's mine. Without the North Galilee Water Scheme, it's hard to see how Adani has enough water to operate its mine."

O'Shanassy said this was the second time ACF had successfully challenged the environment minister's decisions over Bravus' water scheme, with the government conceding in June 2019 that it had failed to properly consider some of the thousands of public comments it received.

ACF was represented in this case by the Environmental Defenders Office.

Mackay Conservation Group campaign manager Sunny Hungerford said in the federal government's rush to approve Carmichael's plan to pipe 12.5 billion litres from the Suttor River each year, it failed to apply proper scrutiny, and failed to properly consider the negative impacts that such a water plan could have on surrounding ecosystems, sacred sites, farmers and towns.

"While Queensland's farmers have battled one of the worst droughts in decades Adani should not be allowed to drain 12.5 billion litres of river water each year just to wash coal and suppress dust at their coal mine," he said.