Queenslanders urged to ‘vote for the reef’ not coal

Next week’s Queensland election critical for Galilee Basin coal mines, the Great Barrier Reef and the climate

By Megan Darby

Queenslanders are being urged to stand up for the Great Barrier Reef over coal interests when they go to the polls on 31 January.

At stake are plans to open up vast coal reserves to the global market – with significant impacts on the fragile coral ecosystem and the climate.

An ad backed by the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF tells voters: “Industrial megaports are being fast-tracked… You have a chance to stop the destruction.”

The TV ad does not identify which parties will protect the reef, but only two showed up to debate the subject on Thursday: Labor and the Greens.

The latest opinion poll by pollsters ReachTEL puts the more coal-friendly Liberal National Party (LNP) in the lead, with 42% of respondents naming it their first choice. Labor was on 37% and Greens on 8%.

Queensland has become a climate and environmental battleground as a result of plans to mine vast reserves of coal in the Galilee Basin.

Based on coal company projections, Greenpeace estimates the mines could generate 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. That is more than the fossil fuel emissions of Canada or Iran.

A recent UCL study found more than 80% of known coal reserves worldwide need to stay in the ground to avoid dangerous global warming.

The export route for Galilee Basin coal involves costly rail and port infrastructure, with ships passing near the Great Barrier Reef.

Local environmental groups are particularly concerned about plans to expand a port at Abbott Point, which involves dredging and dumping spoil on a wetland site.

Transparency

Others have raised concerns about the influence of the coal lobby on Queensland politics.

In an open letter signed by fifty prominent Australians, the Australia Institute has called on Queensland political parties to commit to accountability and transparency principles.

It said: “Successive governments have become too close to industry lobbyists and representatives, particularly from the resources industry, undermining public trust in the political process.”

All the main parties except LNP have agreed.

LNP is proposing taxpayer support for a railway line to link new Galilee Basin coal mines to the coast. The exact sum has not been revealed but is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars.

#voteforthereef @jackietrad ALP commits to no industrial dumping on reef and review of maintenance & safety dredging pic.twitter.com/AaZ5RvQpkK

— helen abrahams (@helenabrahams1) January 22, 2015

Labor has promised not to subsidise the coal rail line and to block controversial dredging plans.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, Labor leader, said mine developers must show their projects were viable without government support.

“It needs to stack up financially, it needs to be commercially viable and the market should decide that, not Campbell Newman,” she argued.

Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council told ABC Labor’s policies would make it difficult for Galilee Basin coal projects to go ahead.

“Labor seems to have closed off all options for the expansion of the port at Abbot Point and without a port solution the coal projects are stranded,” he said.

REPORT: New coal mines are financial “madness” – analysts

On the campaign trail, LNP leader Campbell Newman has been fending off suggestions his party is in the pocket of mining companies.

He insisted donations totalling A$700,000 (US$57,000) from New Hope Coal had nothing to do with approval of an expansion to the company’s Acland mine last year.

As evidence of his integrity, Newman named Clive Palmer, a mining magnate turned politician.

Newman said: “Who was the biggest donor previously? I’ve given you the name and we said no when he asked for something to be done that wasn’t kosher.”

Palmer fell out with LNP after they accused him of trying to buy favour, which he denies. He formed his own party and won a seat in the federal government.

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