Cartoon: Harry Bruce
Cartoon: Harry Bruce contributed

What does it all mean: Adani gets 'critical' status

NEVER before has the State Government elevated a mining proposal to "critical infrastructure" status.

In fact, few projects have ever received the privilege, the last being the government's own $9 billion south-east water grid seven years ago.

But on Sunday, Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham announced he had "invoked special powers" to award Adani's Carmichael Coal mine the status, allowing the Coordinator-General to step in and "keep approvals moving" when required.

The project will retain the status for two years.

Along with this benchmark designation, the company had its second-tier 'prescribed project' status renewed and expanded to include water infrastructure.

Currently, 12 projects have a 'prescribed project' status from the Queensland Government.

The point of declaring a project 'prescribed' is to "overcome unreasonable delays" in obtaining approvals.

Mackay Conservation Group spokesman Peter McCallum isn't happy about either title, believing the 'critical infrastructure' designation will remove legitimate objection rights to Adani's infrastructure.

"That's a very unusual thing, for government to call a private project 'critical infrastructure'.

"It's going to have a detrimental effect on some of the democratic processes we have in Queensland," Mr McCallum said.

"For instance, the rights of graziers to challenge water licenses.

"We've seen graziers who have properties nearby to Adani feeling very threatened that their bores may dry up.

"That's something the government has decided they will just leave in the hands of a bureaucrat. And not allow people to have the right to go to court and have an independent decision made about it."

Mr McCallum said he believed the project would now be "outside the realm of the courts", unless it breached the terms of pre-determined rules, like its mining lease or environmental authority.

However, he maintains Adani will not have the finances to begin construction next year, as it has said it would.

A ministerial services spokeswoman said the goal in awarding the special status to Adani was to "reduce red tape and keep the project moving for the thousands of jobs and business opportunities it offers north and central Queensland".

While she confirmed the special 'critical infrastructure' status would give the Coordinator- General the power to step in and keep approvals moving, she said it did not change the decision-making processes the project would be subjected to.

A spokeswoman for the Mines Minister said all of the safeguards and conditions in place to protect landholders' interests and the environment would remain in place.

Last month the State Government introduced new legislation that will see more scrutiny placed upon resource companies' use of groundwater.

Adani had not expected to have to seek a water licence, but will now need to secure the extra approval, with input from nearby landholders.

It is currently in discussions with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, before lodging its application.

An Adani spokesman said the company welcomed the 'critical infrastructure' designation, and confirmed it was in talks regarding the water legislation.

It aimed to start construction in 2017, the spokesman said.

Historic use of 'special powers'

The State Government last invoked its "special powers" seven years ago, to build the south-east water grid. The project followed Queensland worst drought in history. Construction began in 2007. It was tipped to cost $9 billion.

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