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Coral Before Coal: Great Barrier Reef Projects Halted

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on June 5th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Great Barrier Reef. Photo: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE. Used under Creative Commons license.

A $6.3 billion coal mine project in the Galilee Basin in Queensland that could impact the Great Barrier Reef, has been halted by Tony Burke, Australian environment minister. The Alpha project is the first of several major coal projects in the northern Australian state that are being pushed by Campbell Newman, the state premier, who gave it the go-ahead in late May.

‘‘I don’t have the level of trust in the Queensland government which I wish I had,’’ Burke told reporters. ‘‘I cannot trust them with Queensland jobs. I cannot trust them with the Great Barrier Reef and that’s why I’ll be taking the action I’ve described.’’

The Alpha project is being developed by Hancock Prospecting, which is owned by Gina Rinehart, an Australian billionaire and sponsor of anti-climate change scientists. Rinehart has previously come under fire for her plan to import 1,700 workers to develop the Roy Hill iron mine in Western Australia under an Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA).

Rinehart has teamed up with GVK Power & Infrastructure, an Indian multinational from Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh, which owns 79 percent of the Alpha coal project. Other Indian companies eyeing coal projects in Queensland include Adani Enterprises from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which is planning a A$10.9 billion (U.S. $10.55 billion) coal and rail project at Abbot Point. Also hoping to cash in on the Queensland coal boom is Clive Palmer, another Australian billionaire, whose company Waratah Holdings has a contract to sell 30 million tons of coal to China over the next 20 years.

Environmentalists say that the project will have a major detrimental impact on the Great Barrier Reef which is a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) designated World Heritage Site. The Reef, which is the world’s largest coral ecosystem, provides nesting grounds to dugongs, green turtles and seabirds which live off the prawns, crayfish, and crabs that inhabit the seagrass meadows. One species that is likely to be impacted is the rare snub nose dolphin.

“Boom Goes the Reef”
– a new report issued by Greenpeace Australia in March 2012 – notes that current plans for coal mining and export expansion call for 10,150 ship journeys out of Queensland ports by 2020, up from 1,722 in 2011. The environmental group noted that a number of accidents have already threatened the delicate corals such as the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 coal cargo ship in April 2010.

Just two weeks ago another ship – the ID Integrity from Hong Kong – broke down off Cairns, provoking a warning from activist group GetUp! which is also campaigning against the coal mining. "The incident should be of concern to all Australians. It's more likely to occur in the future as we see more and more ships use the Great Barrier Reef to export coal," GetUp! national director Simon Sheikh told ABC Radio.

The Australian Green party is also opposed to the coal developments in Queensland. “(We) are calling on the Australian Government to end this shambolic state of affairs, compel a real and comprehensive strategic assessment of the coal export developments for the Reef, and stop trying to give away their environmental responsibilities,” said Senator Larissa Waters, the party’s environment spokesperson. “Campbell Newman’s response … “We’re in the coal business”, could leave no shred of doubt that Queensland will not hesitate to allow the destruction of the environment, even our World Heritage icons, to boost the profits of mining billionaires.”

The coal projects are just the latest of major industrial expansion project proposed for the region. In 2008, CorpWatch wrote about plans for a $3 billion bauxite refinery to be developed by the Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chalco) in the Keela wetlands. That project was shelved in late 2009.

Footnote:

“Banjo Rinehart” fancies herself as a poet and a champion of the downtrodden. Here’s a ditty that she had inscribed on a rock from the Roy Hill mine and installed just outside Perth to prove it!

“The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy are better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth …

Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism
and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate”