An analysis of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by progressive think tank the Australia Institute has found only a fraction of the roughly 5500 projects referred since the act’s inception in 2000 have been challenged using “third-party appeal rights”.
“Third-party appeals to the Federal Court have only affected 0.4 per cent of all projects referred under the legislation,” the Australia Institute’s executive director, Ben Oquist, said.
To that end, the government plans to amend section 487 of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to remove the power of so-called “third parties”, such as environmental groups, from intervening in referrals from the minister under that act, via the courts.
“I regret to say Mr Speaker, that some green groups are doing their best to sabotage jobs and investment in Australia,” Mr Abbott told Parliament.
Mackay Conservation Group, Adani and Environment Minister Greg Hunt agreed the company’s federal environment approval should be set aside after the challenge successfully exposed the government’s failure to properly consider two threatened species – the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
The Coalition endorsed the plan on Tuesday to change the act. It was met with anger from the Greens and environment and community groups, which described the move as an “attack on democracy” that would limit the few legal avenues communities had to take on big mining companies and ensure the minister is kept accountable.
Senator Brandis said on Tuesday Australia’s environment laws provided a “red carpet” for activists that had a political, but not a legal, interest in projects.
The move has been welcomed by the minerals industry, with the Minerals Councils of Australia saying it would stop activists using the courts to “deliberately delay legitimate mining projects”.
Adani’s Carmichael project has attracted global attention because of the proximity of coal terminals at Abbot Point to the Great Barrier Reef.
The Liberal and Labor parties have praised the project, with the federal government hailing it as a “miracle” energy solution for India’s poor that would also bring much-needed jobs to Queensland.
A series of Fairfax Media stories this year raised questions about the ultimate ownership of Adani’s assets in Australia, as well as the transparency of its corporate structure.