Why the controversial Adani mine could be a make-or-break election issue


The Adani mine has been in the headlines for almost a decade. SBS News looks back at the controversial project's origins.

The Adani mine has once again become a key election issue. And with Prime Minister Scott Morrison officially announcing Australians will go to the polls on May 18, the controversial mine is set to be back in the headlines.

So, how did we get here?

What is the Adani mine?

Adani is an Indian multinational company, with businesses around the world in sectors such as energy, resources and agribusiness.

In 2010, then-Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced Adani had proposed to establish a coal mine in the Galilee Basin.

The coal would supply Indian power plants and generate electricity for millions of people.

A image supplied by Adani.
A image supplied by Adani.

Production was meant to commence in 2014, with an initial output of 2 million tonnes per annum, rising to 60 million tonnes per annum in 2022.

At that rate, it was to be the largest coal mine in Australia.

Ms Bligh said the project was to undergo a major environmental assessment to investigate "any potential environmental, economic or social impacts of the proposed project".

And that's when it got complicated.

Who opposes the mine?

The project saw immediate backlash from environmental groups and large-scale public protests and online campaigns have continued since 2010.

"If it goes ahead, Adani's mine and its coal will wreck our climate, steal our groundwater, trash Indigenous rights and irreversibly damage the Great Barrier Reef," material from the Australian Conservation Foundation says.

"Adani's mine would drain billions of litres of groundwater at a time when Queensland farmers and wildlife suffer in a severe drought.

"Adani wants to dig millions of truckloads of coal out of the earth, burn the coal, release massive amounts of climate pollution into the air, which would contribute to more savage droughts, fires and floods."

Over the years, the project also jumped through many bureaucratic hoops.

The Queensland government gave preliminary approval to the project in 2014, before the federal government gave approval for the mine to proceed months later.

A Stop Adani protest outside Parliament House in Canberra.
A Stop Adani protest outside Parliament House in Canberra.

But in 2015, the federal court set aside the approval as the federal government had not considered advice about vulnerable species in the area: the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.

After the court decision, the federal government then gave it re-approval.

There have been a series of other court cases around the mine, including bids from environmental groups and Queensland Indigenous traditional owners to stop the project.

Where are we now?

Over the years, Adani has revised the size of the mine down.

The mine is expected to begin on a small scale and later "ramp up" to a first stage capacity of 27.5 million tonnes a year.

In an interview with SBS Punjabi, Adani CEO Jeyakumar Janakraj said, "there is a need for energy poverty to be alleviated in India and in Asian countries".

"And the mine will provide thousands of jobs in northern Queensland. The benefits far outweigh the other side [which is] in opposition."

Last week, federal Environment Minister Melissa Price approved the company's plan to manage groundwater, taking it a step closer to operation.

But environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance said rubber-stamping plans weeks from an election means the approvals were compromised.

"There has been blatant political interference in relation to this issue over the last week, with LNP threats against the environment minister and hurried meetings between the Adani CEO with the prime minister," spokeswoman Carmel Flint said.

It's now up to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's government to approve the groundwater plan, and other plans, including one to manage the tiny and endangered black-throated finch.

As southern black-throated finch.
As southern black-throated finch.

But Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch insists there will be no rushing this step and there is no time frame for approval.

Meanwhile, activists have also indicated they will go after those funding the mine.

"While many of the approvals have been granted, Adani still needs to find funding for this project," Greenpeace material claims.

"And this is where the movement can get them. Public opposition made some of the world's largest banks, including Australia's four biggest banks, pull out of the project."

Election 2019

The project is an issue for both federal Labor and the Coalition because Queensland is one of the key states needed to win federal government.

The mine is popular in the state's central and northern regions but could cost support among voters in inner-city seats who want more action on global warming.

Earlier this week, protesters disrupted a speech by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, shouting "this will be a climate election".

A Stop Adani protester
A Stop Adani protester takes to the stage where Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

But Coalition divisions over Adani appeared to have settled after Ms Price's recent decision.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Bill Shorten has angered environmentalists for not coming out against the mine.

"First of all we have to see what the Queensland government does and secondly we will just adhere to the law," he said this week.

Mr Shorten said in government he would be guided by the "best science and the law of the land" on the Adani approvals and that "it has to stack up".

Additional reporting: AAP

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch