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Estimates: Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal mine and scope 3 emissions

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 29 July 2022, I asked Queensland Environment and Science Department staff about the implications of government arguments in court about the relevance of scope 3 emissions (emissions from fossil fuels exported from Australia that are burnt overseas) from Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal Galilee Basin coalmine. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: Mr Merrick, you would be aware that just yesterday the department made its closing submissions in the Land Court hearing for the Waratah Coal case, dealing with Clive Palmer’s Galilee Basin coalmine. In these submissions, I understand counsel for the department, Jonathan Horton QC, submitted the department’s position at scope 3 emissions, that is emissions from the burning of coal overseas, are a relevant consideration in its decision on the environmental authority. This position is a pretty significant departure from the department’s longstanding position that they are irrelevant to that decision, is it not?

Mr Merrick: Through the minister, I invite the Deputy Director-General of Environmental Services and Regulation to come to the table.

Mr Lawrence: Obviously the Waratah Coal case is a landmark case in Queensland, and probably nationally, in relation to how these types of activities are conditioned and assessed. All of the requirements of the legislation as it currently stands in terms of human rights and the requirements under the Environmental Protection Act—the standard criteria, for example, which crosses over the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity—are all considered in all of the assessments that we do, are documented in the assessment reports, and are the basis for the decisions that we make in relation to all of the activities that we license, whether they be coalmines or petroleum and gas or other
activities that we license.

Mr BERKMAN: Certainly. I am correct, though, that the department’s position in those submissions was that scope 3 emissions are a relevant consideration, and that is a departure from the previously argued position at law, is that correct?

Mr Lawrence: I am not aware of it being a departure from a previously argued position, but certainly Mr Horton put forward the department’s position in relation to that particular case, and we believe that that is correct.

Mr BERKMAN: In light of that—I think this is a question for the director-general—does that shift in position reflect a broader shift in the state’s policy on scope 3 emissions that the EP Act will be applied this way more broadly?

Mr Merrick: As the deputy director-general indicated, as part of the EIS process, scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 have always been required to be profiled as part of the projects. In terms of the broader question you ask, that is a question of policy, I think, for government rather than one for me as a director-general.

Mr BERKMAN: I would be more than happy to put the question to the minister. Given that position, as submitted yesterday, what steps will you take to see this position, that legal interpretation reflected more broadly in policy?

Ms SCANLON: It was the Queensland Palaszczuk government that introduced the Human Rights Act. In terms of what, though, we are talking about around scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, the terms of reference were recently updated for EISs. We have committed to developing decarbonisation plans. I do not want to pre-empt what those decarbonisation plans will look like, but that was a key commitment from the Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan. We will be working through that. I also welcome the new Commonwealth Labor government who has made commitments around implementing and ratcheting down the baseline of the safeguard mechanism and what impact that will have on existing resource operations around the decarbonisation of their operations. All of that is under active discussion right now around the space that we are in and how we can make sure that we ensure every sector is decarbonising, so that we can unlock a whole lot of the job opportunities that we know there are, that we can make sure that we can continue to export a lot of our goods and services overseas to countries that have also signed up to net zero targets, and that we can unlock particularly more renewable energy and renewable energy opportunity as well in the state.

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