A group of young Queenslanders have launched a first-of-its-kind legal challenge in an effort to squash the ambitions of billionaire coal miner Clive Palmer’s plans to build a massive new coal mine in the Galilee Basin.
Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal is seeking to build a massive coal mine with the capacity to produce 40 million tonnes annually, along with a 453-kilometre rail line to link the mine to export terminals.
The challenge is being mounted by youth environmental organisation Youth Verdict, whose members are a diverse group of young Queenslanders all under the age of 30, and which is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.
The challenge is being made under Queensland’s new Human Rights Bill, which was introduced last year, with the youth campaigners saying plans to establish the massive Galilee Coal Project, would be a breach of human rights.
The case will serve as one of the first tests of the Queensland Human Rights Bill, and will be one of the first challenges launched in Australia against a fossil fuel project on the basis of human rights protections.
“The human rights of my generation are threatened by coal mines that drive climate change and cause prolonged droughts, intense heatwaves, more frequent floods and deadlier bushfires. We deserve a safe future but Clive Palmer’s coal mine puts that at risk,” Youth Verdict co-founder Mel McAuliffe said.
“We deserve a safe future but Clive Palmer’s coal mine puts that at risk. That is why Youth Verdict is challenging Clive’s coal mine, to fight for our rights and our future.”
The Galilee Coal project, being developed by Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal, will potentially dwarf the size of the Adani Carmichael coal mine, that is already set to go ahead in the Galilee Basin.
Following the Adani approvals, Palmer sought to expand the plans for the Galilee coal project, that would produce as much as 40 million tonnes of coal per annum.
“Clive Palmer’s coal mine will produce consequences. Horrific consequences like bushfires and floods. Youth Verdict are launching a court case that will be fighting against his coal mine to protect our human rights. We will be protecting our families, our generation and the next generation,” Townsville student and member of Youth Verdict, Billie Tristam said.
The Environmental Defenders Office said the challenge would be a test of Queensland’s new Human Rights Act and will challenge the Queensland government’s approval of the mining lease and environmental authority of the project.
The Environmental Defenders Office will argue that Clive Palmer’s proposed coal mine will have an ‘unreasonable and unjustified’ impact on six human rights under the Queensland Human Rights Act due to its contribution to climate change.
These include the right to life, the rights of the child and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“The evidence shows, we cannot afford to dig up any more coal, but the more coal we dig up and burn the worse these impacts are,” Environmental Defenders Office CEO David Morris said.
“There will be more intense cyclones, more prolonged droughts, deadlier bushfires and the loss of the Great Barrier Reef and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultural places. These impacts affect human rights of Queenslanders projected under Queensland law.”
“Our clients are using the Queensland Human Rights Act, exactly as it was intended to be used, to allow Queenslanders to stand up for their human rights. They have the right to a safe and healthy future and to be able to make genuine choices about their lives. Climate change limits those choices.”
The legal challenge has the support of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council, which represents some of the traditional owners of lands within the Galilee Basin.
“This is a test case for the new Human Rights Act, bringing together climate change, human rights and Aboriginal culture and law. As First Nations people we are adversely affected by the local and the global impacts of coal mining. We are on the frontlines of extraction and experience, first hand, the destruction of the land we’ve been in for thousands of generations.” Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council spokesperson, Murrawah Johnson said.
The Youth Verdict challenge mirrors that of a group of fifteen Canadian young people, which is seeking to force the Canadian government to introduce stronger climate change policies on the basis that is essential to protect the human rights of young people.
There has been a growing trend towards climate change litigation, with a Dutch environmental campaigners Urgenda Foundation successfully challenging the policies of the Netherlands government on the basis they were inadequate action on climate change and did not protect human rights.
The challenge will join similar legal action launched by environmental refuge group Bimblebox Nature Refuge late last year, which is challenging the proposed Galilee coal project on the basis of its impact on the surrounding environment.
The Galilee Coal project would effectively destroy the Bimblebox reserve if it goes ahead.
Massive developments proposed for the Queensland Galilee Basin, which include at least six projects being developed by Adani, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal.
In addition to questions being raised about the appropriateness of massive new coal developments due to their contribution to worsening climate change, the financial viability appears tenuous after a collapse in global coal prices.