Adani approval is political madness

Scott Morrison and Melissa Price have have only made the Adani mess a whole lot worse.

The entry point to Adani’s Carmichael mining lease, about 250 km inland from Mackay, Queensland. PHOTO Tom Jefferson/Greenpeace

Whichever way you look at it, federal approval of Adani’s giant Carmichael coal project was pure madness. Its politics were at best highly questionable. As public policy it was the pits.

Official federal and Queensland records show that over 20 months to mid-November 2018 Adani Australia, the local arm of the mine’s Indian proponent, paid at least $65,800 in various donations to the federal Coalition. We don’t call that bribery, but I don’t know why.

That figure was not disclosed by Adani or any government MP, but extracted from registries by the Australian Conservation Foundation, which also revealed that Adani contributed $30,000 to One Nation and $2,200 to the Labor Party. The latter amount was later returned to the company. No money went to the Greens.

It’s lucky the records exist, as the givers and receivers of such largesse seem unaware of it. Asked what Adani Australia had given, company CEO Lucas Dow didn’t want to name a figure. He said the company doesn’t “donate directly to MPs” but pays for “policy briefings and dinners”.

Capricornia MP Michelle Landry told the ABC she didn’t know what Adani contributed to her campaign because “I don’t control the finances.” Of course she should know, but who’s asking?

We don’t yet know what further donations have been made by Adani since November, and under disclosure rules we won’t know until well after the election, but it’s reasonable to conclude the flow of money didn’t stop there.

A fortnight ago, a teleconference between officers of the environment department and Geoscience Australia sought to iron out difficulties with Adani’s modelling of the impact of its proposed mine on groundwater.

A copy of handwritten notes from that meeting leaked to the ABC revealed that Adani had been told that its modelling needed correcting, and that “they refused”. Yet the very next day environment minister Melissa Price gave her tick of approval to the Adani project.

Sunrise the following day saw prime minister Scott Morrison getting vice-regal permission to call an election, at which point Price would have lost her authority to approve the Carmichael project. So she was just in time. Funny, that.

Disclosure rules on political donations are notoriously ineffectual, so I doubt we will ever know for certain how much money Adani put into Coalition coffers ahead of that approval, nor whether the minister followed due process in giving it the nod. But we are surely entitled to be cynical.

The Queensland government still needs to give permission before Carmichael can go ahead. We can only hope its standards are higher than Canberra’s, but the pressure to say “yes” will be immense.

As public policy the Adani approval fails against all essential measures – stable employment and communities, long-term economic value, environmental impact, biodiversity, water security – you name it. Most of all, it fails against the imperative to reduce global carbon emissions.

The claim that the mine will bring secure work to central Queensland is a cruel joke. It can never be a going concern. Adani has admitted grossly exaggerating its estimate of long-term jobs, while growing global pressure to cut emissions will make the mine less viable with each year that passes.

It speaks volumes for the level of climate change denial in Liberal and National ranks that the Carmichael project has been allowed to get this far. A healthy Australian body politic would long ago have made clear to all concerned that new coal mines could never be countenanced.

The world now finds itself in the nastiest of vicious circles. As long as global emissions remain high, extreme weather events will get more intense and more frequent, inflicting rising damage on the global economy, which reduces our ability to turn things around. We are in crunch time.

Government MPs – at least those who acknowledge the fact of man-made climate change – still behave as if we have all the time in the world to start bringing down our emissions. We don’t.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement the government is obliged to have an emissions target or nationally determined contribution (NDC), and – because it was known from the outset that NDCs were too weak – to strengthen it regularly from next year.

It has not gone unnoticed abroad that having set a weak NDC we haven’t begun to consider a stronger one. The 2019 report of observer group Germanwatch says Australia’s climate policy has “continued to worsen” and that we are seen as “an increasingly regressive force” internationally.

The Greens are right, as are their former leader Bob Brown, salad king Anthony Houston and all the other anti-Adani electric car aficionados who took to the road in protest this Easter. The last thing we need is a massive new coal mine.

Wherever its base and whatever colour its politics, any Australian party with an ounce of self-respect will reject this project and its money and put a permanent lid on the whole tawdry business.

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