Labor swing in Queensland puts brakes on Australia’s coal surge

Vast coal mines planned for the Galilee Basin must stand on their own merits as Labor government set to scrap subsidies

Abbot Point port is the gateway for coal from the Galilee Basin (Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

Abbot Point port is the gateway for coal from the Galilee Basin
(Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

By Megan Darby

Vast coal mines proposed in the Galilee Basin face the buffers after a big swing to Labor in Queensland’s state election over the weekend.

Labor, which is on course to form a government, has pledged to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of proposed coal infrastructure.

Unlike the outgoing Liberal National Party, it is refusing to subsidise rail and port expansions needed to take the coal to a global market.

The election result puts the onus on coal companies to show their plans, such as Adani’s A$16 billion Carmichael mine, are viable.

“The commercial viability of Adani’s Carmichael proposal without this government support is highly questionable,” said Tim Buckley, director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

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With the global coal market oversupplied, cutting prices 60% in the last four years, he argued it was against Australia’s interests to boost production.

The outgoing LNP administration had “serious questions” to answer about the “lavish promises” it made to Adani, Buckley added, in the face of analysis showing the proposals were unbankable on commercial terms.

Adani claimed the election would not influence its financial decision-making. The Indian conglomerate is “committed to proceeding with its mine, rail and port projects that are key to opening up the Galilee Basin,” a spokesperson said.

Carmichael is one of nine mines planned for the Galilee Basin, which if brought to full production would double Australia’s coal exports.

At around 300 million tonnes of coal a year, this output would generate more greenhouse gases when burned than Canada’s entire fossil fuel emissions.

Labor made an election pledge to protect the Great Barrier Reef (Pic: Flickr/Richard Ling)

Labor made an election pledge to protect the Great Barrier Reef
(Pic: Flickr/Richard Ling)

Particularly controversial in the election were related infrastructure plans that threaten the delicate coral ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef.

A proposed port expansion at Abbot Point involves dredging near the reef and dumping the spoil on a wetland.

Labor committed to allow no dredging before Adani reaches financial close and not to put taxpayer funds towards a proposed 300km rail line for the coal.

At time of writing and with four seats yet to declare, Labor had secured 43 seats, two short of the 45 needed for a majority. LNP was on course to win 39 seats.

Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk on Sunday said she was “optimistic” of reaching a majority. Independent candidate Peter Wellington has indicated he will back Labor if necessary.

“We are delighted, because there is no doubt that the reef was a big issue in the election,” said Felicity Wishart, campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “There are a lot of people who voted because of the reef.”

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The LNP’s defeat raised questions about prime minister Tony Abbott’s leadership of the allied Liberal Party.

Abbott, whose hostility towards climate action has prompted international criticism, insisted he would not resign.

A Galaxy poll published on Sunday showed just 27% of voters preferred him as premier to opposition leader Bill Shorten. His ruling coalition trailed Labor by 14 percentage points.

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