ALP LEADER BILL SHORTEN COMMENTS - THE ADANI COAL MINE
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has often been accused of flip-flopping on Adani coal mine, particularly by Conservative Senator Canavan, and then Environment Minister Josh Freydenburg.
In January 2018, Mr Shorten took the Queensland Labor Government’s position that the Adani mine would not be supported “ if it does not stack up economically and environmentally” when asked about the mine at the National Press Club.
Speculation followed that Labor was exploring legal avenues to halt the project if it wins government.
On 2 Mar 2018, the SMH reported Opposition leader Bill Shorten denied telling colleagues he wants to block the Adani mega-mine should Labor win government “instead insisting that blocking it would hurt foreign investment in Australia. I don’t like it very much”.
Mr Shorten said Labor was the party of the environment, but
“if one government enters into contracts then a future government can't simply rip them up. To do so would be [a] sovereign risk. I’ve been to Queensland, from the outback to the coast, it's a beautiful country and it's worth preserving. But I also travel to mining communities and coal communities. It’s not an either-or [proposition]. We are a resource nation, a mining nation”
Mr Shorten declared the position amid internal wrangling over the divisive coal mine proposal, and concern from some quarters within the party that Labor is sacrificing its electoral chances in Queensland for city votes in Melbourne.
This pressure on taking a position came in the lead up to the Batman by election which would be a contest between Labor and the Greens who are consistent anti-coal mining advocates.
The Guardian reported that Adani submitted an altered laboratory report while appealing a fine for contamination of sensitive wetlands on the Queensland coast near the Great Barrier Reef.
While launching Ged Kearney’s campaign for Batman, Shorten said the “scandalous allegation” – if true – would mean that Adani did not deserve a licence to operate a coalmine.
Former Australian Conservation Foundation president, Geoff Cousins had claimed the week before that Shorten had told him he was prepared to back a proposal to revoke the licence using a provision of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Then Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg said Mr Shorten
“will tell the baristas of Batman one thing and the miners of Mackay another. He is determined to walk both sides of the street and he cannot be trusted. He has said he is the party of miners and at the same time he has said privately that he is against the Carmichael mine which could create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of export income for Australia”.
Activist group 350.org pledged to escalate campaigning in Batman in response to Labor’s “weakness”, and claimed the party’s position would cost it votes.
“Two thirds of Australians do not support Adani’s mine going ahead ... Batman wants leadership, and they are not seeing it from Labor,” senior campaigner Jake Wishart said.
On March 7th 2018, ABC reporter Andrew Probin cited Bill Shorten as saying that the Adani Coal mine, in his view, does not ‘stack up’.
"I don't support it because it doesn't add up commercially and environmentally. It is the same project, it's the same proposition.”
This report suggested Bill Shorten's was hardening his position and had made up his mind that the proposed mine did not ‘add up’. At a presser in Adelaide, standing next to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherall, Mr Shorten returned to a more nuanced Queensland Government position.
By this time Mr Shorten would have received the reaction of his Federal Queensland colleagues who were reportedly unnerved by his hardening public position on the mine. Queensland colleagues fear there would be an election backlash in regional Queensland because Labor was being perceived as being ‘anti-coal’.
Queensland will be one of the key political battlegrounds at the next federal election, with a handful of rural and regional seats to be hotly contested.
A foretaste of this reality came for Labor's Cathy O'Toole who won the seat of Herbert by just 37 votes in the 2016 election, ousting the LNP's Ewen Jones.
Mr Jones tweeted
"How can Adani possibly secure finance when the alternate Prime Minister has basically said 'at your own risk'. What does this say about foreign investment in Australia? What happens to the next mining proposal?"
Reporter Andrew Probin cited a Queensland Federal Labor MP told the ABC that he was not comfortable with Mr Shorten's new position on Adani because it would be interpreted by regional voters as being "anti-coal". "This is potentially pulling a rug from under us," the MP said, saying the ALP should not put itself in a position of being potentially blamed for the mine's collapse.
Another Labor MP, a frontbencher told Probin the Opposition must have a "defensible" position on Adani, which allowed for scepticism and doubt on the project's viability but didn't pronounce a formal conclusion. The frontbencher explained Mr Shorten's predicament
"Bill is never going to be able to find a position that satisfies the dark browns and the greens. We need a nuanced, considered position that recognises that most of the project's hurdles are commercial."
The Federal Labor leader's withdrawal of even qualified support for the mine was now publicly different to Queensland Labor Premier Anna Palaszczuk, who restated her support for the Adani project in the Parliament,
"The Government supports Adani as long as it financially stacks up. We have been clear about that from day one, I will stand up for Queensland and for jobs in the resources sector, for what it brings this state”.
Six months later, in September 2018, Mr Shorten was asked by ABC Insiders about his shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler. Butler is publicly and unequivocally opposed to the Adani mine. Mr Shorten responded that it was only Mr Butler’s “judgment” on the issue.
Queensland Senator Matt Canavan was all over this inconsistency, motivated at least in some part by a desire to paint Bill Shorten as an ‘anti-mine’ leader in Queensland electorates.
“How can a Shadow Minister have a 'judgement' about such an important project, and the Opposition leader not have a view at all. When Bill Shorten was pressed on his position on the project he sat on the fence and refused to give his position. Instead Bill meekly commented that he will 'sit down with my Cabinet colleagues' if he gets elected. In a week where figures showed that Queensland has the highest unemployment of any state, Bill's fence sitting is just not good enough ".
By late November, 2018 Mr Shorten was clearly looking to the Federal election in the long term, and in the short term, the upcoming public gaze on the December National Labor Party Conference where the controversial Adani Mine issue would come to a head in Labor Party debate.
His own shadow Minister for Energy and the Environment,
--Mark Butler, had only recently publicly stated his unequivocal opposition to the Adani Mine;
--The Greens and Conservationists had persistently and unequivocally opposed the mining project on the grounds of environmental destruction risks and another coal mine adding to climate change gas emission blow outs; and
--The Queensland State Government had taken a persistent pro coal-mining position on the grounds that it would provide much needed employment and resource tax income.
Other events over 2018 indicate their willingness to overlook or forgive significant environmental breaches by Adani because the economic ‘pay off’ of supporting the mine takes priority. Examples include
- A ‘slap on the wrist’ fine of $12,000 for polluting Abbott Point wetlands;
- A soft response to the sinking of ground water bores without approval; and
- The decision not to pursue legal action over the Adani failure to disclose its Australian CEO's links to a company convicted of environmental offences in Africa, a breach of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, because it was “unclear that the oversight was done negligently in order to mislead the department and the minister", and
- A ‘lock step’ willingness to work with the Federal Government to forgive or overlook environmental concerns was further exposed by a CSIRO report in December 2018.
ABC investigative reporter Mark Willacy confirmed the CSIRO found serious flaws in Adani's key water management plan to protect an ancient springs complex near its proposed Carmichael coal mine.
Adani's Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) is designed to minimise impacts on ecosystems including the nationally important Doongmabulla Springs. Conservationists and some scientists warn the springs could permanently dry up under Adani's plan to drain billions of litres of groundwater a year for its proposed mine.
The GDEMP is a requirement of the Federal Government's final approval and also needs to be ticked off by the Queensland Government. On November 22nd, Mr Shorten reportedly suggested that Adani’s proposed coal mine in Queensland would not worsen Australia’s greenhouse emissions.
When asked when there would be enough damage from climate change - such as harm to the Great Barrier Reef - to prompt Labor to block the mine, Mr Shorten said he didn't accept the proposition.
"I believe that our policies on renewable energy will actually reduce our emissions. The actual decision about Adani is not going to affect Australian emissions. The IPCC has made it clear that the way you take global action isn't through particular projects. We are very committed to protecting the reef, we are very committed to taking action on climate change, and we've made it very clear that we won't put any taxpayer resources into the Adani mine."
Anti-mine activists took this statement as a strong indication that Mr Shorten had moved off the fence and, worse, become an apologist for the Adani Mine project. Activists opposed to the coal mine in the Galilee Basin formed queues outside the offices of Mr Shorten, senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese in Sydney and Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaczszuk to voice their disapproval.
Brisbane-based Stop Adani activist Anne Gardiner said Labor's energy policy lacks credibility if it allows the Adani mine to go ahead.
"With the impacts of climate accelerating, the world just can't afford to mine and burn more coal or allow unprecedented volumes of water to be extracted from inland rivers and precious water basins," she said in a statement.