By Maulik Pathak
April 12, 2017 - The Adani group’s plan to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in Queensland, Australia moved closer to realization after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met founder-chairman Gautam Adani during his three-day visit to India.
Turnbull assured the Indian billionaire that his government would resolve an issue with native title laws, helping take the $16.5 billion project closer to fruition, Australian media reported on Tuesday.
The native title issue surrounding the Carmichael Mine project refers to an Australian Federal Court ruling that invalidated deals with traditional land owners in that country. Legislation to fix this issue is before the Senate and Turnbull is understood to have assured the company it will be resolved, Sky News reported on Tuesday.
Turnbull is said to have told Adani that he expected the changes overruling the court’s decision to be passed by the country’s Parliament when it reconvenes in May. He also told Adani that the ruling had caused problems with many land deals across Australia, the report added.
A quick resolution is crucial for Adani, which has invested $3.3 billion in the coal mine, railway and port project and said previously that it will start construction in the second half of 2017.
An Adani spokesperson said that the meeting was “very positive” for the group’s Australian project, but refused to comment on details.
“Happy to meet with Australian PM today. Working together for economic and stronger Australia- India ties,” Gautam Adani posted on microblogging site Twitter on Monday evening.
Turnbull’s reaffirmation of his government’s commitment to Adani’s coal mine project comes after Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk met Adani last month at Mundra in Gujarat where the conglomerate runs a port.
In October, the Palaszczuk government exempted the project from new water laws that could have mired it in further legal challenges.
The project, announced in 2010, has run into resistance from environmentalists, resulting in delays of at least three years. Last year, the Queensland state’s department of environment and heritage protection (EHP) issued a final environmental authority (EA) for the project in the Galilee Basin.
On August 19, Adani won a major legal battle when the Australian apex court dismissed appeals lodged by indigenous community member Adrian Burragubba as well as a Brisbane-based environmental group against the project.
But that has not stopped protests. Last month, just ahead of the Queensland premier’s visit, a group of protestors including former Test cricket captains Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell wrote an open letter to Adani saying that the mines project will threaten the Great Barrier Reef, and asking the group to instead invest in solar energy.
Adani, during the meeting which lasted for about 30 minutes, also discussed the prospect of a $900 million government loan to Adani group to fund a rail line for the Carmichael mine project, said a person familiar with the matter who did not wish to be named.
“As far as the rail link is concerned, if you’re asking about Adani’s interest in securing funding from the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund, that’s an independent process—it has to go through that process, through that independent assessment by the board,” said Turnbull, ahead of the meeting, while answering a question related to the rail funding at a press conference in Delhi.
Adani expects to complete the first phase of the project by 2020-21, producing 25 million tonnes of coal annually.