Young Queenslanders escalate legal request to revoke Adani mine approval, after UN recommends Reef ‘in danger’ listing


Two young North Queenslanders have escalated a legal complaint made last year, calling for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine approvals to be revoked, in light of the United Nation’s recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ because of the risks of climate change. 

The escalation also comes a month after the Federal Court found that the Minister for the Environment has a duty of care to avoid causing injury to young people while exercising her powers to approve a new coal project in the Sharma vs Minister for the Environment case. In addition, the Court found that the Reef would no longer exist ‘as we know it today’ at 2°C of global warming. Evidence in the case showed that to avoid that, it would not be enough to merely avoid further new approvals of mines. 

Lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia have again written to the Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, on behalf of the young community leaders, requesting that the Minister consider the additional evidence and expediate a response to the complaint.  

The new evidence adds further weight to the young women’s original complaint, that presented the federal government with new expert evidence and strong legal grounds to revoke approval of Adani’s controversial coal mine on the basis that its contribution to climate change and the resulting impact on the Great Barrier Reef was not assessed when the mine was approved. 

Through their lawyers, the young community leaders— Brooklyn O’Hearn, 18, from Townsville; and Claire Galvin, 19, from Cairns – obtained independent evidence from climate and economic experts that contradicts reasoning by former Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt when he approved the mine in 2015.  

The evidence finds the proposed mine would increase global greenhouse gas emissions and have a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef. EJA lawyers say the three independent expert reports, along with the additional information presented today, provides strong evidence for Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, to exercise her discretionary powers under section 145 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to revoke the mine’s environmental approval. 

To date, the government has not provided a final response to the legal complaint. 

Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin said: 

“This new information makes it even clearer that Minister Ley must act urgently on climate change to protect the Great Barrier Reef and stop Adani’s giant coal mine from going ahead. 

“The reef is an incredibly beautiful place to visit, but it’s also suffered numerous mass coral bleaching events, caused by climate change. We know that if Adani’s giant Carmichael coal mine goes ahead, it will lock in decades of carbon emissions and our magnificent reef will suffer. 

“Our North Queensland communities rely on a healthy reef to survive. We need to urgently phase out fossil fuels, including coal, to ensure our reef and communities can thrive. Otherwise, Queenslanders will lose an international wonder and an integral part of our regional economy. 

“The impacts of burning coal from the three mines will hit the tourism and hospitality industries hard. If this mine goes ahead, reef-reliant communities like Cairns will struggle to recover with more frequent coral bleaching, especially with the additional impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

“The recent outcome of the Sharma Federal Court case proves that there is a direct link between the Minister Ley’s decisions about the Adani mine and protecting our magnificent Great Barrier Reef for future generations. We are giving Environment Minister Sussan Ley an opportunity to be on the right side of history and revoke approval of Adani’s mine.  

“We ask Minister Ley to consider the mounting and extensive evidence we have provided and revoke approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the communities who rely on it.”  

Hollie Kerwin, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia, said:  

“The current reality in which our clients make their request is unavoidably clear. In order to avoid a 2°C global temperature rise and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, more than 90 percent of Australia’s coal reserves must remain in the ground. All steps must be taken, beyond merely avoiding further new approvals, to reduce the expected future emission of CO2.” 

“These new findings, combined with the existing evidence provided to the Federal Environment Minister, demonstrate that halting the progress of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine is a critical and material step to avoid 2°C of global warming and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.  

“Had this evidence been considered at the time Adani’s Carmichael coal mine was approved in 2015, the grounds for approval stated by former Minister Greg Hunt would not have been available. 

Brooklyn and Claire’s escalation letter is here and original legal complaint here. 

Interviews are available with: 

  • Claire Galvin and Brooklyn O’Hearn.  
  • Hollie Kerwin, Senior Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia. 

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