Adani’s plans begin to anger traditional mine supporters

Brisbane's Stop Adani human sign on October 7.
October 20, 2017

It is approaching crunch time for the Adani mega-coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, with the movement against it growing by the day, including in areas that traditionally support mining.

ABC’s Four Corners exposed the murky nature of Adani’s global businesses. The thousands who came out to support the nationwide Stop Adani National Days of Action over October 7–8 revealed the cross-generational opposition to the mining project. A recent opinion poll backs that up: ReachTel’s October 7 polling of 2200 people across Australia found 56% opposed the mine going ahead, more than twice the number who support the mine. Just over 18% were “undecided”.

Adani is pushing forward, however. Its chief Jeyakumar Janakaraj announced on October 14 that construction of the rail link to mark the official start would begin “within days”.

Janakaraj also said Adani would start delivering coal in March 2020 and would announce major contracts within weeks. He also said the company would meet its December target to raise the estimated $2 billion it needs to fund the mine and rail project in central Queensland.

This is not the first time Adani has announced work is about to start. The announcements form part of its campaign to pressure the federal government to approve its $1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. A decision is expected in December.

This would coincide with the refinancing of Adani’s Abbott’s Point port facility, which is dependent on the Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin. But the Queensland and federal governments’ approvals are still being challenged in the High Court, and that decision is not expected before March.

Adani has billions of dollars at stake and is prepared to gamble millions to secure investment in the project.

But the movement opposing the mine is growing in diversity. The number of planned actions range from local groups targeting MPs’ offices, major social and other media campaigns including billboards in prominent places and more coordinated actions, including targeting Adani’s Brisbane headquarters and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate office in Sydney when work begins. A national Stop Adani week of action, “Stop Adani Shake-up”, is being planned for November 20–26.

In late November and early December, activists from Frontline Action against Coal will gather in central Queensland to join non-violent direct action protests. Activists from Galilee Blockade will continue to protest against Downer, one of the two companies undertaking the initial construction phase.

During the corporate AGM season, actions are also being directed at potential financiers of the Adani project and other coalmining projects.

Protesters from a number from coal-affected communities delivered a load of coal to the Commonwealth Bank’s Harbour Street office in Sydney on October 16, to highlight the consequences of the bank’s lending policies.

“The Commonwealth Bank’s climate policy promises to support a transition to net zero emissions by 2050 but its actions make a mockery of that promise,” Greenpeace campaigner Jonathan Moylan said.

“By failing to exclude highly polluting fossil fuel projects like coalmines, CommBank are funding projects that destroy our environment, take a catastrophic toll on the health of communities, and accelerate climate change.”

Since March, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the CBA to rule out investment in new coal projects. But in October, the bank released a one-page Climate Policy Position Statement that did not contain restrictions on lending to coal projects.

Newcastle resident John Hayes, who lives within 200 metres of the world’s largest coal port in Carrington, for which the CBA arranged most of the finance, said the bank was not concerned for future generations.

“The Commonwealth Bank is damaging the air quality of my community, which is putting the health of my seven grandchildren at risk,” Hayes said at the October 16 protest.

Analysis by Market Forces shows CBA has lent $6 billion to fossil fuel companies in the past 18 months.

Despite the CBA’s public commitment in late 2015 to take action to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, last year it lent more than $3.8 billion to coal, gas, oil mining and infrastructure projects, making it the biggest funder of fossil fuels in 2016.

“CommBank must change its climate policy before its AGM to recognise that climate related risks are real and to take significant measures to curb them,” Moylan said.

A critical missing partner in the growing anti-Adani movement is the trade union movement, as well as some local communities who believe the coalmine will bring jobs.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) supports Adani on the basis of the apparent jobs bonanza. Adani claims 10,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created by the Carmichael project.

However, this has been disputed from many quarters, including by economist John Quiggin, who said on October 18 that “neither the jobs nor the revenue will ever materialise”. He warned that the whole project “will turn into a sink, into which public money is poured for no return”. In mid-October Adani was advertising just seven jobs at its Townsville headquarters, Quiggin said.

The CFMEU has called for the jobs to be awarded locally and is opposed to a fly-in fly-out workforce and mechanisation — a highly unlikely prospect for a mine on this scale and a potential opening for trade union involvement in the Stop Adani Alliance.

The Townsville Bulletin reported on October 14 that there was considerable local opposition to the Townsville and Rockhamption Councils funding a $37 million airport for Adani fly-in fly-out workers.

Quiggin said the councils’ funding decision came after Adani announced the fly-in, fly-out workforce for the mine would be divided between Townsville and Rockhampton. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s enthusiasm obscured the fact that the job bonanza had been scaled back from 10,000 to 2000 workers, with the regional headquarters employing just 150.

According to the Townsville Bulletin, the big winners will be Queensland Airports, which will reap fees for each fly-in fly-out worker going through Townsville Airport, and rent from the council for the drug testing facility it intends to set up.

“The use of local government money to build infrastructure for Adani epitomises the entire project,” said Quiggin. 

It is now also fuelling a rethink of the costs versus the benefits from some traditionally strongly pro-mining communities, a clear sign the campaign is growing.

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