A small central Queensland environment group is taking Minister Plibersek and two big coal companies back to court for failing to protect our environment from climate harm.
The Living Wonders climate cases last year are the first court challenges to a coal or gas decision made by Australia’s current Environment Minister.
The Environment Council of Central Queensland, represented by lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, has appealed last year's decision of a single judge in the cases to the Full Bench of the Federal Court.
The dismissal of the cases last year effectively cleared the way for the Minister to ignore climate change in her risk assessment of all new coal and gas projects on her desk – of which there are more than 25.
The reconsideration requests
In July 2022, the Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) submitted requests asking Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to reconsider 19 coal and gas proposals because of their climate risk to our environment.
The legal intervention asked the Minister to properly assess the climate impacts of new coal
and gas extraction projects, based on extensive evidence demonstrating adverse effects on
2121 nationally significant species, places, and ecological communities that are under threat
across the Australian environment. This includes iconic animals like koalas and Tasmanian Devils, as well as World and National Heritage areas like the Great Barrier Reef, the Tarkine and Kakadu.
On 3 November 2022, Minister Plibersek accepted all ECoCeQ’s requests as legally valid.
In May 2023, the Minister dismissed the reconsideration requests relating to the extension of
the Mount Pleasant open cut coal mine in NSW, the Narrabri Coal mine expansion in NSW,
and the Ensham coal mine life extension in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.
ECoCeQ is challenging the decisions in relation to the Narrabri and Mount Pleasant
Current status of the reconsideration requests
Since 2022, five coal and gas proposals subject to the intervention have been either
withdrawn by proponents or effectively shelved, and currently 11 remain before the
The Minister has given an undertaking not to approve these proposals until the court
challenges have been heard and determined.
During this time, some of the proposals subject to the reconsideration requests have cleared
The Caval Ridge Mine Horse Pit Extension (QLD), Whitehaven’s Winchester South Coal
Mine Project (QLD) and the Boggabri Coal Mine (NSW) are all subject to the Living Wonders
legal intervention and have recently received approval by State Governments.
The Queensland Government approved the Caval Ridge proposal in September 2023 and
approved Whitehaven’s Winchester South project this week.
In December 2023, the NSW State Government also approved an expansion of the Boggabri
mine near Gunnedah backed by Idemitsu.
However, none of these proposals can go ahead without the Federal Environment Minister’s
final approval. Further, in line with published departmental policy, the Minister must deal
with each relevant reconsideration request before moving to approve any of these proposed
Separately, the Queensland government also approved the Vulcan South Coal Mine in the
Bowen Basin on 1 February without requiring an environmental impact statement.
The project still needs approval from Minister Plibersek to go ahead but is not subject to the
Living Wonders legal intervention