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The Hand that Won’t Sign the Paper: Adani’s Stalling Project

It should be a sign for this Indian giant, a company that has done much to illustrate the ethical and moral bankruptcy in Australia’s political classes. Despite support stretching from Canberra to rural Queensland, lifted by the fantasy of job creation, Adani is yet to dig the earth of what would have been one of the largest mining complexes on the planet.

For one thing, a downsizing was announced suggesting a more compact operation that would supposedly fly under the radar of detractors. From its initial, lofty ambitions of a $16.5 billion investment, Adani Mining chief executive Lucas Dow now suggests a less extravagant $2 billion reliant on existing rail infrastructure. Even here, the mission to establish a new coal mine seems grotesque given the dire warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While Adani mines, the world cooks.

There is more than a sense that Adani is a poisoned chalice best avoided by all concerned – unless you are an Australian energy or resources minister incapable of evaluating history or the future prospects of fossil fuels. This point is particularly problematic given the admission by Indian officials that coal is going off the books at such a rate that the Carmichael project is destined to become the most muddle headed of white elephants. Indeed, existing thermal coal power in India costs twice what renewable generation does.

The outlook for such analysts as the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis is glum for the coal romantics and fossil fuel adorers. “Exports have declined since 2015,” goes its report last month, “and more contraction is expected. High export revenues entirely reflect current high prices which are themselves partially a result of declining investment in thermal coal mining.”

Banks have refused to grant a line of finance. Insurance and reinsurance companies have resisted supplying cover for the coal mine – among them, AXA, SCOR, FM Global, QBE and Suncorp. Some insurance companies – Allianz, Munich Re, Swiss Re, Zurich and Generali – have environmental policies that preclude engagement with the project.

The hope for Adani is that various ditherers and the morally lax might still be in the market to cover this enterprise of pure environmental buccaneering: US re-insurer giants such as AIG, AXIS Capital and Berkshire Hathaway have yet to make their stance on this clear.

Such reluctance was prompted, in no small part, by the efforts of 73 environmental organisations, topped by a letter to 30 global insurance and reinsurance companies sent earlier this month. Such groups have been unrelenting in emphasising the dangers posed by the Carmichael project. These do not only entail the mining operations themselves but the rail line linked to the export terminal that would threaten the Great Barrier Reef. Biodiversity and a World Heritage Site remain vulnerable targets before a company renowned for its rapacity towards worker and environment.

Other animals have also become talismans of resistance to the project, assuming titanic proportions for opponents. The Black-throated finch has become something of an activists’ cult, marked by the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team’s insistence that Adani’s reassurances in their protection and preservation are, at best, woeful. A promise to conduct surveys twice a year hardly counted, and the experts were being given the cold shoulder in what was deemed a “closed book consultation”. Adani insists on those who sing appropriate tunes.

The company’s response has been that of a diligent, agonised box ticker keen on following process. “The claims that the process has not been ‘followed on a number of different levels,’” went a rebuking spokesperson for the company last year, “is without basis as Adani has followed the legislation and conditions set in close consultation with the Federal and Queensland governments.”

Then there is a sticking point that refuses to go away: Adani’s promised, seemingly unquenchable thirst. Up to 12.5 billion litres of water drawn from the Suttor River in central Queensland is being sought to aid the open-cut coal effort. The misnamed Environment Minister’s portfolio, inhabited by the near invisible Melissa Price, did not feel any pressing concerns for conducting an assessment on how damaging such a move would be.

Again, Adani is there with qualifiers and dismissive counters, which are hard things to pull off, given the persistent trouble of drought in Queensland: the issue of the mandatory water trigger, which comes into play in such significant projects, should only apply to water used in the coal extraction process, rather than its overall plan of water usage which it has conveniently softened as a water strategy. As the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy explains, “stand-alone proposals which involve only associated infrastructure, such as pipelines, are not captured by the water trigger because they do not directly involve the extraction of coal.” Such bureaucratic riddling does well in Canberra.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is not impressed, and is taking the matter to the Federal Court. By not considering the issue of how broad the water trigger was, Price had erred in a matter of law. As things stand, Price and her colleagues, in connivance with Adani, are erring on a lot more besides, making the campaign against the mine a fundamental counter against permissible and ultimately scandalous environmental vandalism.

13 comments

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  1. Miriam English

    Thanks Binoy. We need to keep the spotlight on these cheats. Great piece.

  2. pierre wilkinsonp

    what Miriam said, I echo.

  3. Rossleigh

    Adani can’t announce that they won’t go ahead with the mine because that would mean that their assets immediately take a hit. The mine is on their books as a multibillion dollar holding. Their tactic has been to continue to announce deadlines and dates for the commencement of operations. Just a few weeks ago they announced that they’d be funding a scaled back version which would start before Christmas… Before Christmas? You must have misheard. They’ll be starting sometime in 2019. Early in 2019.

  4. Diannaart

    Adani is still supported by the Queensland Labor government. Demonstrably, there are more jobs in tourism, renewables, film industry, agriculture than in coal mining, why is Annastacia Palaszczuk not taking the opportunity to retreat?

    I know why the LNP is shackled to old coal, but what is Labor waiting for, the next election? Will that make such a difference to the voters? Are there more votes in fossil fuels? Or simply that the mining industry has far more influence than is good for democracy?

  5. Peter F

    Diannart, I believe that the QLD Government expects that the Adani mine will fall over of its own accord. If the Government ( any Government) takes action to close it, there will be compensation to be paid. Remember that Adani is just the window dressing for the real developers in the Carmichael /Gallilee Basins. Hancock and Palmer get a mention.

  6. Diannaart

    Peter F

    I hope you are correct.

    Thing is, all these wheels within wheels of political spin.

    Does. Not. Always. Work.

    Sometimes standing for something suggests integrity.

    Does anyone remember “integrity” or “backbone”, maybe “honesty”?

  7. Diannaart

    Where does Labor “stand” on this latest piece of attempted pollution?

    Controversial plans to dump up to 15m tonnes of salt and other waste near a creek in drought-stricken Queensland have hit an unexpected roadblock after a court ruled that planning approvals do not allow for trucks to park at the site.

    Guardian Australia reported in October that a study had found that the dump, near the town of Chinchilla, north-west of Brisbane, carried a “considerable” risk of water contamination. Salt waste from coal seam gas operations is planned to be stored fewer than 100 metres from Stockyard Creek, in the headwaters of the Murray-Darling basin.

    The proposal was initially opposed by the Western Downs regional council in 2016. The council approved the dump several months later, after the proponent, We Kando, launched court action.

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/29/plan-to-dump-15m-tonnes-of-salt-waste-in-murray-darling-headwaters-hits-roadblock

  8. Rhonda

    I hope Adani falls over big time. Love the Helen (Dimidenko) reference.

  9. Miriam English

    If we had a less corrupt set of politicians we could have nearly full employment in stable jobs with a leading place in the world… instead of a third-rate developed nation run by lackies of the mining billionaires who treat the people as if this was some banana republic instead of a democracy.

    We could have a steadily growing knowledge-based economy with shrinking use of resources, producing ebooks, videos, scientific research, virtual worlds, music, computer games, artwork, movies, artificial intelligence… all these things require negligible use of physical resources if done properly. We could be world leaders… instead of the pariahs we have become.

  10. Henry Rodrigues

    Here’s a worthy project for Mr Adani, that great philantrophist posing as a miner, why not take your billions and do something really worthwhile and sure to earn the undying gratitude of millions of your long suffering compatriots, clean up the slums of Mumbai and New Delhi.

    Mr Modi will award you his nation’s highest honour.

    Show the world that you care for the underdogs of India.

  11. Stephen Brailey

    Australian politicians like to show their well muscled middle finger to all those chumps who voted for them on a regular basis. The Adani mine is just the latest in a series of decisions make by our political elite based on the f#ck the people, I want to retire in style, model of governance. That the so called conservatives are the worst examples should hardly be a surprise. The vascilation of the Labor Party over Adani is merely a hypnic jerk of a privileged class that likes to talk about poverty. All the while salving their consciences and the complete abandonment of socialism in favour of neo-conservatism or economic rationalism or whatever ‘crap-no-speak term is in vogue by giving some scraps to ‘the people’. “It’s the least that they could do”!

  12. New England Cocky

    Beware the Auntie Gina quietly stalking in the scrub as reported by Karen Middleton “Gina Rinehart and the Galilee” The Saturday Paper, 16 December 2017, p1,4. There is a lot of money in the North Australian Development Fund that is opaque and the Liarbral Notional$ prefer to gift those enormous government funds to their coal mining mates, like Auntie Gina, who is reported as having both coal lease and railway ambitions in the Galilee Basin.

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