Lawyers fighting to have Queensland’s land court stop the construction of Australia’s largest coal mine say they have made the touted economic benefits look “ridiculous” beside the risk of environmental damage.
In a closing statement against the Carmichael mine proposed by Indian coal giant Adani, barrister Saul Holt told the court there had been “dramatic changes in the picture of this mine” as a result of legal proceedings brought by conservationists.
Holt said cross-examination of Adani’s own expert witnesses had revealed the company had “grossly overstated the jobs and royalties the mine is expected to generate”.
At the same time, Adani had sought approval while understating key environmental risks, including the impact on the “exceptional ecological values” of the Doongmabulla Springs, and the endangered black-throated finch and the waxy cabbage palm, Holt said.
The court was in a “dramatically better position” than state and government decision makers who had relied on Adani’s information, he said.
Adani’s lawyers were due to address the court on Thursday afternoon.
Land court president Carmel MacDonald is expected then to take up to six months to decide on her recommendation on the giant mine.
Her decision will not be binding on the Queensland government, which is yet to grant Adani environmental approval or a mining lease.
Holt told the court that Adani’s own economics consultant Jerome Fahrer had made the “extraordinary” admission that the mine would result in “not many jobs, no argument”.
Fahrer’s own analysis showed the project would create 1,464 net jobs, not more than 10,000 as the company claimed, Holt said.
Fahrer’s modelling also showed state royalties of up to $7.8bn, along with federal company tax, would amount to just $16.8bn compared to the $22bn touted by the company.
Holt said it was also “extraordinary” that Adani’s other witness John Stanford had conceded it was “an extremely risky project, everybody knows that, I accept that”.
The Carmichael mine, if a country, would be the world’s sixth or seventh largest coal exporter at a time when there was a long-term structural downturn under way in the global thermal coal market, Holt said. This created the rare situation where the environmental and economic cases for the mine were both against it.
“In the circumstances, the risks of this proposal are just too great to justify it, particularly in light of the dramatically reduced economic benefits and very questionable viability of it,” Holt said.
An Adani spokesman said the company stood by its promise of $22bn in royalties and taxes and 10,000 jobs including construction, rail and the expansion of Abbott Point port.
He said the court case had examined only the jobs related to the mine and a limited stretch of nearby rail.
Jo Bragg, the chief executive of the environmental defenders office which brought the legal action on behalf of conservationists Coast and Country, said it had been a “landmark case in scrutinising very carefully these exaggerated claims of economic development by the mining industry”.
She said outside the court that Adani was “just thrashing around trying to recover from its economic expert giving independent evidence in court”.
“The figure of 1,464 jobs by Dr Fahrer, that is net jobs,” she said.
“That takes account of jobs lost in other sectors, rural sectors and other mining projects. It covers the pit and the rail.
“Adani’s figure of 10,000 per annum, which is frankly ridiculous, includes the port but we’ve looked into the number of jobs which might be in the port and we’re talking about hundreds of jobs, so they’ve still exaggerated by many many thousands of jobs.”
Bragg said Adani had confused the issue of benefits to Queensland via mining royalties “by including corporate taxes paid to the federal government”.
She said the prospect that Carmichael was “a white elephant” raised issues of mine site rehabilitation after the state audit office two years ago identified between $800m and $1bn in degraded land costs as a result of mining in Queensland.
“These projects need to be carefully scrutinised,” she said. “There can be extensive environmental damage [and] they can end up a liability rather than an asset to the state.”