State government in anti-coal group backdown
UPDATE JANUARY 23, 2019
THE State Government has been forced into an embarrassing backdown after wrongly confirming a controversial environment group would conduct a review into the Carmichael coal mine's management plan for a threatened bird species.
After staunchly defending its decision to appoint the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, the Government on Monday night issued a clarification to Indian miner Adani, which said only the group's director would lead the review.
In an email, a senior Department of Environment and Science officer said that while Hub director Brendan Wintle would lead the review, this would not be under the "auspices" of the Hub.
The correspondence came three days after the department wrote to Adani saying "the review is being undertaken by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub".
The bizarre retraction comes after heavy criticism from the resources industry, given the Hub's experts include some who have supported an immediate end to coal mining and rejected the use of biodiversity offsets to protect displaced animals.
The review - the final hurdle Adani must clear before starting construction - will consider the company's plan for a 33,000ha biodiversity offset around the mine site for the black-throated finch.
While the move has been applauded by environmentalists, there is anger over the Government's decision to pervert usual processes by conducting another review.
"Regional Queensland communities have every right to be angry," Minerals Council of Australia chief Tania Constable said.
Australian Resources and Energy Group's Tara Diamond said Queenslanders deserved a government which "supports major job-creating industries" rather than "appeasing minority activist views and chasing inner city votes at the expense of the regions".
INITIAL: THE fate of Queensland's Carmichael mine is in the hands of an environmental group whose members champion radical action on climate change, oppose coal and have appeared as expert witnesses against Adani.
In an extraordinary departure from normal processes, the Threatened Species Recovery Hub has been hand-picked by the Palaszczuk Government to review one of the mine's environmental management plans.
The review, which is holding up Adani from finally beginning construction, will reassess plans to conserve 33,000 hectares of pastoral land, purchased around the 1300 hectare mine site to offset habitat loss for the black-throated finch.
The decision to call in "independent" experts is in stark contrast to the Department of Environment's decision to wave through habitat offsets for the same bird species when the Government recently built the Townsville Ring Rd.
The review was ordered on the same day that the Federal Government approved Adani's management plan and comes despite the Department of Environment having finch experts on staff.
Environment Minister Leanne Enoch has refused to detail how the Hub was appointed, who made the decision, whether payment was involved or when the review was due.
"The Palaszczuk Government's position has always been clear that the project needs to stack up environmentally," a spokeswoman for the holidaying Ms Enoch said.
However, the Hub appears certain to condemn Adani's finch management plan, given its experts have for years vocally condemned Adani, coal mining and the use of biodiversity offsets to cater for habitat loss.
The Hub's leaders work in the universities that bankroll the $60 million outfit, in concert with wealthy donors, and the Federal Government's National Environmental Science Program.
Hub director Brendan Wintle, deputy director Martine Maron and project leaders James Watson, Ben Phillips and Hugh Possingham have all questioned widely-used government policies that allow land to be conserved nearby when habitat is lost.
Hub project leader Rod Fensham was part of an activist collective that funded Bill Shorten's controversial $17,000 tour of Great Barrier Reef and charter flight over the Galilee Basin last year, which prompted the Labor leader to oppose the Carmichael mine.
The University of Queensland groundwater expert also appeared as an expert witness in one of the many failed legal cases against Adani.
The Hub's leaders have also used social media to advocate for radical action to tackle climate change, oppose coal-fired power and condemn mining.
An Adani spokeswoman accused the Palaszczuk Government of "shifting the goalposts" at the 11th hour after the plan was submitted to the Department over 18 months ago.
"We hold very serious concerns as to how the Threatened Species Recovery Hub could provide independent advice on the Black-Throated Finch Management Plan when they are outspokenly biased on matters directly related to our project and coal more generally," she said.
"On the face of evidence provided and available in the public domain, it is apparent that this Hub is compromised and is incapable of providing an independent review.
"We are ready to start construction but we need clarity on what's required to finalise these plans and the time frames the Department will take to do it."
However, Ms Enoch's spokeswoman said the Department decided to call in experts because the mine site had the largest known population of the threatened species.
"The Federal Government trusts the Threatened Species Environment Hub so much that they provide millions of dollars in funding," she said.
WHO'S ON THE PANEL
Accompanied Bill Shorten on a trip funding by activists aimed at getting him to oppose the mine.
Was the co-author of several articles that were critical of the Carmichael Mine proceeding.
Member of a group funded by anti-coal advocate Robert Purves.
Published a number of articles that questioned the use of environmental offsets.
Has formally testified in legal proceedings as an expert witness against Adani.
Retweeted comments about how the black-throated finch cannot be moved.
Attended "Climate Strike" in March and tweeted a picture of children holding a sign saying "I'll stop farting if you stop burning coal".