ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Protests in Australia Against Adani Coal Mining Project

The Adani Mining Pty Ltd is confident of commencing construction of the Carmichael mine by mid-2017, which will be Australia's largest coal mine, despite growing concerns and protests from environmental and indigenous groups that it will jeopardise the Great Barrier Reef and Aboriginal heritage. There were protests in Melbourne and Townsville, where Adani announced that he will set up the headquarters of the project. These groups are calling on the Australian government to invest in solar energy rather than coal, while the proponents for the mine say it will create jobs and boost the local economy. The Adani Group is also planning solar projects in Australia with a capacity of 1,500 MW within five years. The coal projects are yet to reach financial closure.

Neena Bhandari ( is a Sydney-based journalist and president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (Australia & South Pacific). She started her career with the Times of India in 1985, and has since worked in India, the United Kingdom and Australia.

While serious questions remain on the commercial viability and environmental feasibility of the Adani Mining Pty Ltd’s (AMPL) A$21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine, rail and port projects in the state of Queensland, the company is confident of commencing construction between July and September 2017. The projects’ headquarters will be based in Townsville, in north Queensland.

AMPL, a subsidiary of India-based Adani Enterprises, on 10 November 2016 crossed one of the major hurdles with the Queensland Parliament passing the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, 2016 and the amended Water Legislation Amendment Bill, 2015 (Queensland Parliament 2016, 2015). The amended legislation means that companies that had already undergone scrutiny through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Land Court would still require a water licence, but that would not go through the public objection process.

The mine is situated close to the Great Artesian Basin, a key irrigation resource for agriculture across inland Australia (Smerdon 2013; AgForce nd). It is expected to extract about 12.5 gigalitres per year from the Belyando River, one of the longest rivers in Central Queensland. Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles told local media, “That particular [Carmichael] project has been through two very significant Land Court cases and so what we've said is if they can demonstrate that they have met the requirements of the water licence and all of those elements had been tested in previous Land Court hearings, then this water licence stage would not be appealable in the Land Court. It would still be subject to potential judicial review, but not a full Land Court challenge” (Burke 2016).

Not everyone is happy with the amended groundwater laws. The Australian Greens’ deputy leader Larissa Waters said, “Queensland Labor were elected to ‘save the [Great Barrier] Reef’ but instead they’ve caved in to big coal, creating loopholes to put Adani’s Reef-destroying mega-mine on the fast track. ... With this decision, the Queensland Government is condemning the Reef to worse bleaching and jeopardising the 70,000 jobs it provides” (Waters 2016).

But, Adani Australia Chief Executive Officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj said in a statement, “We are very encouraged the government did recognise the balance between its commitment on water licensing and acknowledging that this work has already been done in our case, and that the new provisions as originally drafted risked unintended duplication and activist appeals. ... We look forward to continuing working with the Premier and the State Government—as we have with Federal and Local governments—to making these projects a reality in the interest of jobs and investment” (Mesner 2016).

On 3 April 2016, the Queensland state government had approved the mining lease for AMPL’s Carmichael coal mine. The approved leases are 70441 Carmichael, 70505 Carmichael East and 70506 Carmichael North, which are estimated to contain 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal.

Political Support

In October 2016, in an unprecedented move, the state government had granted Adani’s Carmichael coal project “critical infrastructure” and “prescribed project” status to fast-track its development (Department of the Premier and Cabinet 2016a). The Adani group’s forays into Australia had commenced in 2010, when coal prices were near A$120 per tonne, with the purchase of the Greenfield Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin, one of Australia's richest coal reserves, and the Abbot Point Port near Bowen in Queensland (ABN Newswire 2010; YCharts nd).

The “prescribed project” and “critical infrastructure” declarations give the coordinator general extraordinary powers to speed up or progress assessment, and step in and take control of any legal decision still required for the project to proceed with ministerial consent. It also strips away most usual statutory powers of the Queensland Courts to judicially review and determine the lawfulness of the coordinator general’s decisions.

Queensland’s Development, Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said, “This step bundles together major elements of the project for the first time—the mine, the 389-kilometre rail line, and the water infrastructure, including a pipeline, pumping stations and a dam upgrade. The decision would mean less red tape for the proposed project and the jobs and business opportunities it offered.” He added that since early 2015, 22 key federal, state and local government approvals have been granted for the Adani mine project and that “Adani has now obtained all the necessary primary approvals for its mine, rail and port project. ... At a state level, the only key approvals remaining are water licenses and Adani is actively working on those with my Department” (Department of the Premier and Cabinet 2016a).

The decision had come close on the heels of an open letter, published in major newspapers around the state, from Queensland-based regional leaders demanding the federal and state governments to clear the project without any further delays. On 5 December 2016, the project secured another major secondary approval. The Queensland State Coordinator–General has approved an application for 31.5 km of permanent rail line as well as a temporary construction workers’ camp for up to 300 beds. The rail section will form a part of the 389 km standard gauge, heavy haul railway line from the mine in the Galilee Basin to the coal export port of Abbot Point.

Commercial Viability

The Adani Group has successfully enlisted political support, but it has not been able to obtain financial support, either from the government or from major banks. In April 2016, while approving the mining lease, Lynham had said that Queensland taxpayers will not fund infrastructure for the project and there would be no dredging at Abbot Point until Adani demonstrates financial closure (Department of the Premier and Cabinet 2016b).

The company has not reached a financial closure, but a spokesperson for Adani, Ron Watson,[1] said that the company is confident that the project is commercially viable. “If it wasn’t financially viable, why would we have invested A$3.3 billion to date on the project and spent another A$100 million in contesting legal challenges?” It is understood that the company is advancing on a number of fronts, including financing the project.

So far, most major banks, including the government-owned State Bank of India, have declined to invest in the project, touted to be Australia’s largest coal mine project (Quiggin 2016) and one of the biggest of its kind in the world. As Greenpeace Australia Pacific Reef Campaigner, Shani Tager said, “This mine does not have any of the finances it needs to proceed. International investors have shunned Carmichael because funding it would be a major financial risk” (Greenpeace 2016).

However, certain aspects of the proposal have moved in the company’s favour in 2016, increasing the probability of progress from extremely remote to a possible start later in 2017. But, according to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), Australia, the financial condition of Adani Enterprises remains particularly averse to this project. According to IEEFA’s Director of Energy Finance Studies, Tim Buckley,[2] “With the share price having fallen by 50% over the last five years, Adani Enterprises’ market capitalisation of equity is US$1.0bn against net debts as at September 2016 of US$2.4bn. Further, IEEFA estimates the Adani family has an estimated US$1.2bn of margin loans against its various listed Adani group companies (Enterprises, Ports, Power and Transmission). This makes financing a foreign A$10 billion project that includes clear stranded asset carbon risk extremely problematic.”

With the moves by the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund in 2015 and the announcement last month by the largest investor in the world—Blackrock (US$4.9 trillion AUM [assets under management])—calling for a high global price on carbon and the entry into force of the COP21 (or the conference of the Parties to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) climate agreement, Buckley said,

International financial institutions are increasingly unlikely to provide financial support for a greenfield, low quality thermal coal export mine.

The thermal coal price has nearly doubled from decade lows of US$42/t (tonne) evident at the start of 2016, with forward prices of benchmark 6,000kcal (kilocalories), 12–14% ash export coal by 2020–2022 now sitting at a more realistic US$67/t.[3] So, while Carmichael coal (4,950kcal, 26% ash) will receive a dramatic discount to the benchmark due to its low energy/high ash nature, the potential viability of the project has improved to the point where it might be cashflow positive if future prices are sustained over the 30-year life. This is a big `if’, because we don’t want to conflate price and volumes—demand for seaborne thermal coal is in structural decline.

Coal Imports

India has set its target to cease thermal coal imports by the end of this decade. According to Buckley, “The 14% year-on-year decline in coal imports in October 2016 supports this forecast.[4] It is literally a loss-making proposition for coal fired power plants to operate at current spot prices. Further, the Indian Government’s plan for 225GW (gigawatt) of renewables by 2022 and 350GW by 2030 shows a rapid diversification away from coal, particularly imported coal.[5] This remains a key strategic challenge. Why would Adani pursue a greenfield capex proposal for an import product that India neither needs nor can afford at anywhere near current prices?”

India’s coal import volumes from Australia, though, have increased considerably over five years (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science 2016). From 0.5 Mt (million tonnes) worth A$41.6 million in 2010–11, Indian imports of black thermal coal from Australia increased to 5.8 Mt worth A$397.3 million in 2015–16. Similarly, from 30.9 Mt worth A$7,078.3 million in 2010–11, Indian imports of black metallurgical coal from Australia grew to 43.7 Mt worth A$4,593.7 million in 2015–16, according to Australian government figures.

“The world energy demand till 2035 is set to grow 40% and needs around A$50 trillion in energy investments to meet this demand. How this investment is made will write the script of our energy future,” said Megan Clark (2016), Rio Tinto non-Executive Director and former Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Solar Energy

Adani is also a major investor in renewable energy technologies. The company is planning to have a number of solar projects in Australia with a total capacity of 1,500 MW (megawatt) within the next five years. The Adani group and South Australia’s Whyalla City Council on 25 November 2016 formally reached an agreement for the company to access land to develop a A$200 million solar farm. The project will involve a 120 MW solar generation plant, with potential capacity of up to 150 MW. A day earlier (24 November 2016), the Adani group had announced that the central-western Queensland town of Moranbah had been chosen for a 100–200 MW solar plant. The A$200 million solar farm—to be built on a 600 ha (hectaore) block that was part of the Rugby Run grazing property—will use the latest mono-PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Contact) solar cell technology and single-axis tracking systems developed to improve efficiency and output.

The year 2016 has seen Adani Green Energy invest US$1 billion to become the largest solar project developer and operator in India. Adani has constructed 793 MW of solar plants in India to date and it has a further 1,225 MW in construction or late development phases. It has also announced a 320 MW solar development programme for Bangladesh (Rasel 2016).

According to Buckley, “While Adani talks about the importance of Carmichael coal, the actions of the company in terms of over US$1bn of investments into solar made in 2016 alone suggests a re-alignment of Adani Enterprises Ltd, pivoting rapidly into a leading solar company that understands solar projects in India at Rs4.50–5.00/kWh (kilowatt hour) are immediately more cost effective for India than new imported coal fired power plants at Rs6-7/kWh, plus associated fuel and currency risks.”

Coal vs Renewables

The Carmichael mine is expected to produce and transport about 60 million tonnes of coal a year for export, mostly to India. Watson said, “Australian coal will predominantly be used in Adani powerhouses in India in line with the Government of India's strategy, which will help to deliver affordable electricity to 100 million people who currently do not have power in their homes.”

Currently, India has around 65 GW of coal capacity under construction. According to Mark Fulton,[6] founder of Energy Transition Advisors (ETA) and a former head of research at Citigroup and Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors, “The overall supply–demand situation in the shorter term, when combined with ambitious targets for renewable energy, implies that this coal capacity is unneeded, meaning it could become ‘economically stranded.’ Longer term, if renewable energy continues to scale up dramatically then the need for further coal capacity is heavily reduced.”

Fulton (2016), who is the editor of the report “Thermal Coal in Asia—Stopping the Juggernaut,” thinks the Adani coal mine in Queensland does not makes sense from an economic point of view in terms of cost and need in the Indian energy system. He said,

India also wishes to promote its own coal supply and in the long run should be looking to reduce coal demand. The implications of the coal pipeline go beyond the climate and pollution impacts, with stranded assets likely to emerge and stress the financial system as capacity utilisation rates continue to fall. Right now, there is no need for new coal plants. Removing subsidies on coal production and consumption is an obvious policy option and in that context promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency especially through Electricity Market Reform to prioritise its use and encourage Green Financing such as Green Bonds makes perfect sense.

So, should Indian and Australian governments be promoting renewable energy sources and removing subsidies for coal production and consumption and imposing moratoriums on new coal power construction?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)[7] that the Adani Carmichael project has the full support of the Federal Government:

We have a global commitment to reduce our emissions. ... And coal is going to be an important part of our energy mix, there’s no question about that for many, many, many decades to come, on any view.

So the reality is, that Australia’s coal compared to that from other countries is relatively clean. The fact is if we stop all of our coal exports tomorrow, you would simply have more coal exported from other countries like Indonesia, like Columbia, like China, that would be filling the gap. So the answer—trying to strangle the Australian coal industry is not going to do anything ... to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Concerns

Environmental and indigenous groups are concerned that the Carmichael project would threaten the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef,[8] destroy the habitat for many endemic species of flora and fauna, jeopardise the rights of Australia’s first people, and have an adverse impact on the health and livelihoods of local communities (UNESCO nd).

According to Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) Chief Executive Officer Kelly O’Shanassy,[9]

If Adani’s mine goes ahead, it will push the endangered Black-throated Finch [Poephila cincta cincta] closer to extinction by destroying critical habitat in the Galilee Basin. The mine would draw massive quantities of artesian water that would damage the ecologically and culturally significant Doongmabulla Springs. And most importantly, when burnt, coal from the Carmichael mine will produce 4.6 billion tonnes of climate pollution. That would completely cancel out the annual pollution cuts the Turnbull Government has promised as part of Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Further, the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point and an increase in the number of coal ships would present new risks to the Great Barrier Reef. But by far the biggest risk to the Reef is climate change. The Reef suffered a huge bleaching event this year—a direct result of warmer than usual waters. Even without Adani’s polluting new coal mine, the reef is in trouble.

Indigenous Concerns

The Wangan and Jagalingou people (W&J),[10] traditional owners of the land in Queensland’s Galilee Basin where the mine would be sited, are divided on the open-cut Carmichael coal mine (Ker 2016). The pro-conservation faction of W&J has vowed to fight against the mining leases all the way to Australia’s apex court, the High Court, and if required under international law to protect their rights, land, environment and cultural heritage. Adrian Burragubba, senior Traditional Owner and spokesperson for the W&J Council said in a media release: “Adani’s much touted Indigenous Participation Plan talks in big headline numbers but would deliver the equivalent to Aboriginal people in the region of about A$5,000 a person per year. And their grossly inflated jobs numbers would amount to no more than 30 minimum wage, dead-end, jobs for our people if the mine ever got to full production” (Wangan & Jagalingou People 2016a).

The Carmichael mine remains a remote prospect also because, as Buckley said, “We note no material hires of staff, so Adani Enterprises’ existing 26 staff have not progressed the engineering and design plans since the entire development team was retrenched in 2015.[11] The company recently advertised four job vacancies in Queensland, the only engineering role was for a solar power engineer.”

The proponents of the mine claim that the project will create nearly 10,000 jobs and lead to “sustainable” economic development of the Galilee Basin region. Peter McCallum, Coordinator, Mackay Conservation Group said in a media release, “The foreign owned miner continues to claim its project would create 10,000 jobs, when evidence provided in court, under oath, by Adani’s economic witness revealed it would only generate 1,464 additional jobs. Even with the port and rail line factored in, the project will only create a maximum of 25% of the jobs Adani claims” (South Asia Times 2016).

Legal Challenges

The company has won several legal cases in 2016 and it is determined that the project must go ahead and the reason it gives to convince the critics—environmental, indigenous and others—is that “the project has passed more than 40 environmental and regulatory tests with all levels of government. Those tests included Indigenous issues following consultation with Elders.”

Currently, there are three legal challenges against the company that are pending decision. First, in May 2016, the ACF had challenged former Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the coal mine on the basis that the approval was inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations to protect the reef (Australian Conservation Foundation 2016). The ACF lost before a single judge of the Federal Court in August 2016, but it has appealed that decision to the full bench of the Federal Court. The appeal is expected to be heard in the first half of 2017.

Second, the Determination of National Native Title Tribunal in April 2015 was challenged by the W&J peoples, represented by Adrian Burragubba (Wangan & Jagalingou People 2016b). A single judge of the Federal Court dismissed the case, but Burrugubba has appealed that decision to the full bench of the Federal Court. The case is likely to be heard in February–March 2017. It is also worth noting that the W&J peoples have made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in which they have sought assistance to deal with the failure of both federal and state governments to properly respect the human rights of the Traditional Owners (Wangan & Jagalingou People 2016c).

Third, Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping (2016) has sought judicial review in the Supreme Court of Queensland of the grant of the environmental authority for work associated with the Abbot Point Port expansion. The trial was held in October 2016 and the decision is pending.

According to Chris McGrath,[12] a lawyer who has acted in several of the cases against the mine, “Adani appears to be claiming the court cases are delaying the project as a smokescreen for its inability to obtain finance for the mine. If the price and market outlook for thermal coal was better, the mine would have already commenced despite the pending court cases. In terms of Adani’s legal rights to act on its approvals, none of these cases prevent Adani from proceeding with the mine immediately.”

The controversies relating to the coal mining projects are far from over.


ABN Newswire (2010): “Linc Energy Limited (ASX:LNC) Sells Galilee Coal Tenement to Adani Enterprises (BOM:512599) Subsidiary Adani Mining for A$3 Billion,” 4 August, viewed on 2 December 2016,

AgForce (nd): “Great Artesian Basin—A Significant Water Resource,” viewed on 2 December 2016,

Australian Conservation Foundation (2016): “Australian Conservation Foundation Appeals Federal Court Decision on Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine,” 19 September, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Burke, Gail (2016): “Mining Companies' New Water Licence Requirements Passed by Queensland Parliament,” ABC, 10 November, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Clark, Megan (2016): “Science and the Mining and Resources Industry—Partners and Helpers in Building an Exciting, Equal and Sustainable World,” 42nd Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture, Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, UniSA City West Campus, Allan Scott Auditorium, Adelaide, 28 October, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (2016): Resources and Energy Quarterly, September, Office of the Chief Economist, Australian Government, Canberra, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Department of the Premier and Cabinet (2016a): “Queensland Government Steps Up to Progress Adani Mine Project ,” media statement, 9 October, Queensland Government, Brisbane, viewed on 2 December 2016,

— (2016b): “Carmichael Mine Approvals Put Thousands of New Jobs Step Closer,” joint statement, 3 April, Queensland Government, Brisbane, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Fulton, Mark (ed) (2016): “Thermal Coal in Asia—Stopping the Juggernaut,” October, Energy Transition Advisors, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Greenpreace (2016): “Critical Infrastructure Status for Carmichael Absurd and Indefensible,” media release, 10 October, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Brisbane, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Ker, Peter (2016): “Traditional Owners Split over Adani Mine,” Sydney Morning Herald, 17 April, viewed on 2 December,

Mesner, Kerri-Anne (2016): “Adani Confirms Carmichael Mine Construction Start Date,” Morning Bulletin, 10 November, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Queensland Parliament (2015): “Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015,” Queensland Government, Brisbane, viewed on 2 December 2016,

— (2016): “Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016,” Queensland Government, Brisbane, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Quiggin, John (2016): “Why Is Everyone So Afraid of Adani's Carmichael Mine?” Crikey, 4 February, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Rasel, Aminur Rahman (2016): “Adani Group to Install Solar Power Plants in BD,” Dhaka Tribune, 6 November, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Smerdon, Brian (2013): “Water In, Water Out: Assessing the Future of the Great Artesian Basin,” Conversation, 28 March, viewed on 2 December 2016,

South Asia Times (2016): “Adani Uses Getty Stock Images to Show ‘Angry Locals’ in Ad Campaign,” 28 October, viewed on 2 December 2016,

UNESCO (nd): “Great Barrier Reef—UNESCO World Heritage Centre,” viewed on 2 December 2016,

Wangan & Jagalingou People (2016a): “Canavan Doing Foreign Miner Adani’s Bidding,” 23 October, viewed on 2 December 2016,

— (2016b): “Traditional Owners Fight On: Appeal Carmichael Mine Federal Court Decision,” 8 September, viewed on 2 December 2016,

—­­­­ (2016c): “Traditional Owners Fighting Adani Mine Meet UN Rapporteur,” 13 October, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Waters, Lasrissa (2016): “Labor Buckle to Adani and Betray Queenslanders,” media release, GreensMPs, 9 November, viewed on 2 December 2016,

Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping (2016): “Whitsunday Residents Take Expansion of Adani’s Abbot Point Terminal to Court,” media release, 24 June, Environmental Defenders Office, West End, Queensland, viewed on 2 December 2016,

YCharts (nd): “Australia Coal Price (Monthly, USD per Metric Ton),” viewed on 2 December 2016,


[1] Interview via email and phone, 8­­–25 November 2016.

[2] Interview via email and phone, 8–17 November 2016.

[3] “Stock Market Quotes and Charts,” eSignal, viewed on 2 December 2016,

[4] “Coal Imports Decline 14 Per cent to 16 MT in October,”, 6 November 2016, viewed on 2 December 2016,

[5]Rounak Kumar Gunjan, “Renewable Energy to Contribute 52% to NTPC’s Electricity Generation Capacity by 2020,” InfraCircle, 7 November 2016, viewed on 2 December 2016,

[6] Interview via email, 8 November 2016.

[7]Interview with Steve Austin 612 ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 25 October 2016, viewed on 2 December 2016,

[8]UNESCO World Heritage List – Great Barrier Reef

[9]Interview via email response through Australian Conservation Foundation senior media advisor Josh Meadows, 8–9 November 2016.

[10]Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, media releases,

[11] Lisa Cox, “Adani Stands Down Major Contractors,” Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 2015, viewed on 2 December 2016,

[12] Interview via email and phone, 15–25 November 2016.

Back to Top