Mr Palmer, who is the biggest donor to the Queensland Liberal National Party, still has to get the approval of the incoming Newman government for all three aspects of the project -- a coalmine in the Galilee Basin, a rail line to the port of Abbot Point and a wharf capable of exporting 30 million tonnes of coal a year.
An environmental impact statement on the project was available for public comment between September 24 and November 7 last year, and under Queensland legislation the Co-Ordinator General -- a statutory position in the state government -- has to publicly respond. "The delay we've had under the Labor Party would put the project back about 12 months," Mr Palmer said yesterday. "It's just the process was much more onerous and difficult.
Under the timeline of the previous government, the Co-Ordinator General's response was due about the middle of this year. Even if the project was approved, it would still need more environmental approvals on land use for the rail line and shipping issues for the port because of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef."Our declaration as a project of state significance still stands. I'm sure we'll get an approval in the current environment."
Mr Palmer had been aiming to start exporting coal by 2014, but conceded yesterday this could go to 2015.
One issue is the mine, which covers part of the Bimblebox Nature Reserve. The LNP mining policy states that areas of high conservation value should not be mined, and conservationists say a nature reserve is such an area.
But Mr Palmer said yesterday a nature reserve constituted the lowest level of environmental protection, and mining was still allowed in such areas.
"This was classified as a bottom-level reserve, which allowed mining and normal activities to take place, because it was judged by experts, not by us, that it wasn't a critical environment condition to protect," he said.
Mr Palmer appeared to back away from claims last week that Greenpeace was funded by the CIA. He said yesterday he had provided a distraction that had helped Campbell Newman; asked if he believed Greenpeace was funded by the CIA, he said: "That's something I wouldn't say at this stage. A mistake doesn't become an error until you refuse to correct it, so I'm still thinking about it. But let me say I don't regret making that statement."
Another mining chief who is facing a vital decision from the new Newman government is Peter Bond of Linc Energy, whose underground coal gasification project near Chinchilla was placed under review by the Bligh government after allegations gas had leaked from another UCG project at Kingaroy.
The previous government had a review of the UCG industry due by the end of this year, and the fate of the proposed $1bn plant was to have been decided by this review. But this could change under the new government, which still has to indicate its view on UCG.
Source : ANDREW FRASER