Don’t mention the coal: Australian Government tries to walk both sides of climate policy. Again

by Rod Campbell


While Australia’s Foreign Minister attends the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York, the nation’s Environment Minister will be in court fighting for new coal mines.

Next week, Foreign Minister Penny Wong will fly to New York to attend the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit.

The Minister will try to show that “Australia is back at the table of climate leaders”, and she will try to get Pacific countries’ diplomatic support for Australia’s bid to host a major international climate conference in 2026.

Getting the Pacific’s support for the bid is difficult because the Australian Government refuses even to consider one of the Pacific leaders’ key requests – to stop new fossil fuel projects.

So it’s unfortunate for Minister Wong that in the week she is overseas trying to avoid the topic of her government’s ongoing support for 100+ new gas and coal projects, her colleague, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, will be in court fighting to approve new coal mines.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: the Environment Minister will be in court fighting for new coal mines.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: the Environment Minister will be in court fighting for new coal mines.

The Federal Court cases have been brought by the Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) and their lawyers, Environmental Justice Australia (EJA).

ECoCeQ and EJA want the Environment Minister to refuse 19 fossil fuel projects under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

While the EPBC Act does not directly cover climate impacts, ECoCeQ and EJA argue that the Minister could refuse fossil fuel projects because their climate impacts will cause harm to matters of national environmental significance that are protected under the Act.

Back in May, Minister Plibersek refused the reconsideration request by ECoCeQ and EJA concerning three coal mines. One of those mines was subsequently approved and the other two, Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri Underground Mine and MACH Energy’s Mount Pleasant Coal Mine, are being contested in court next week.

Whitehaven Coal and MACH Energy have joined the court action as co-respondents with the Minister for the Environment.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, in late 2023, Australia’s Environment Minister is in court opposing environment groups and on the side of coal companies, arguing to approve new coal projects despite their climate impacts.

Concurrently, Australia’s Foreign Minister will try to convince the world that Australia takes climate change seriously.

It would be funny if it were not so serious.

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