Palmer bids for coal port expansion

Clive Palmer wants to acquire the $3bn T2 expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal.

Maverick federal MP Clive Palmer has sought permission from the Queensland government to take over one of Aus­tralia’s most controversial and environmentally sensitive port developments.

Waratah Coal, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr Palmer’s Mineralogy Pty Ltd, wants to acquire the $3 billion T2 expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal surrendered by BHP in November.

Despite major environmental concerns over the dumping of toxic waste from Mr Palmer’s nickel refinery near Townsville, Waratah Coal has asked the Queensland government for “preferred developer” status for Terminal 2.

The T2 development forms part of a proposed $9bn expansion of Abbot Point that has become one of Australia’s most controversial projects because of the need to dredge and dump spoils within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have given approval for three million cubic metres of dredging, subject to strict ­conditions.

Environment groups have mounted a strong campaign against the Abbot Point expansion in part because it will allow development of a massive new coal province in the Galilee Basin.

Waratah Coal has already proposed an $8.4bn coalmine and infrastructure project in the Galilee Basin, including a large-scale thermal coalmine near Alpha, west of Emerald. The complex will include four underground mines, two surface mines and coal-handling and processing ­facilities. The mine will be linked to a new coal terminal at Abbot Point near Bowen by a new 453km standard gauge, heavy-haul railway line.

A spokesman for Waratah Coal confirmed the company had applied to the Queensland government to take over the T2 development but had yet to receive a response. Deputy Premier and State Development Minister Jeff Seeney said “a number of ­entities” had expressed interest in developing T2.

“The Queensland government is still considering its position with respect to the future development of the port,” Mr Seeney said.

Waratah said there was “an urgent need for significant export capacity increases at Abbot Point, in order to enable the realisation of the benefits of coalmining to all stakeholders including government”. It said the proposed T2 terminal project would provide the required port and upstream infrastructure to facilitate development of some of the world’s richest coal deposits.

The T2 development would provide an “end-to-end” solution for the Galilee Basin supply chain in conjunction with the already approved Waratah Coal mine and heavy haul rail line, the company said. The project would provide increased certainty and reduced costs for other currently marginal projects in the Galilee Basin, it said

Mr Palmer quit as a member of the Liberal National Party in 2012 amid claims by the Newman government that he was seeking preferential treatment as a major donor. Waratah Coal and several rival groups had been vying to be the government’s preferred tenderer for the multi-billion-dollar mine, rail and port development.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation said it was not aware of Waratah’s T2 application. However, a spokeswoman said the expansion could be undertaken under existing environmental approvals for dredging and dumping of dredge spoils if undertaken within five years.

BHP Billiton formally withdrew from the T2 development in November as part of a major rationalisation of its development portfolio. BHP Billiton said the terminal project would provide 500 jobs.