In its latest federal budget, the Tony Abbott Liberal-National government announced the setting up of a $5 billion “concessional loan facility” called the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. The proposal has been condemned by environmental and Aboriginal rights groups.
According to a report in the May 15 Sydney Morning Herald, a spokeswoman for federal treasurer Joe Hockey said companies building infrastructure in parts of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory would be able to apply for these loans if they could show that these projects that had an ability to generate a return but not at a level sufficient to be fully financed by the private sector.
“If the Galilee Basin coal projects would not be commercially viable without government assistance they may be eligible.”
SOSBlakAustralia, which leads the campaign against the forced closures of Aboriginal communities, condemned this new loans scheme as “$5 billion dollars to exploit the Northern 'frontier' after gutting Indigenous services by $543 million in 2014 and threats of community closures.
“They are seeking to use resources from Aboriginal land to pay their way out of debt.”
After two successful nationwide and global mobilisations against forced community closures, SOSBlakAustralia has called a third round of protests for June 26.
Environmentalists have been campaigning, with some success, to pressure banks and other financial institutions to divest or rule out investing in the mega coal and coal seam gas mining projects in the Queensland's Galilee Basin for good reason, as 350.org explains:
“Stopping the Galilee Coal mines of central Queensland is one of the most important fossil fuel fights on the planet. If the Galilee Basin was a country it would be the seventh largest source of carbon emissions — it’s a veritable ticking carbon bomb.
“The Galilee, if opened up, would consist of nine coal mines, five of which would be the largest ever-built in Australia. This monstrous project would require a major expansion of Abbot Point port, which sits on the edge of our precious Great Barrier Reef.”
This global climate action group says that already 12 major global banks have ruled out funding this dangerous project and it has organised a series of occupations of branches of Australia's biggest bank, the Commonwealth Bank, in a campaign called “Raise The Heat”.
Actions also took place outside Commonwealth Banks and associated financial institutions in more than 40 cities and towns around Australia and the world, including New York, London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Paris, Ho Chi Minh City and Tehran.
Greens deputy leader Senator Larissa Waters said in a media statement: “Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the big mining companies to use up Queensland's water supplies, damage the Great Barrier Reef and cook the planet.
“Why should mining magnates like Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer get taxpayer-funded handouts to suck up Queensland's water for their climate-destroying mines, when we're in terrible drought and facing El Nino?”
“The Galilee Basin mega-mines are environmentally and economically unviable. The coal price has tanked because the rest of the world is turning to renewables, while our backward government attacks Australia's renewable energy industry.
“It's just insane to be putting taxpayer money into propping up these white elephants, especially when 11 international banks have ruled out financing Galilee Basin Coal projects.
“Adani has admitted in court that their Carmichael coal mine jobs and royalties figures are overblown and experts warn they will likely pay no tax in Australia, as the mine will not run a profit.
“The Abbott government needs to stop putting its big mining donors ahead of farmers, the climate, and the Great Barrier Reef.”
Socialist Alliance national co-convener Susan Price told Green Left Weekly that the Abbott government had abandoned its pretence about imposing austerity to reduce the public debt.
“Abbott is prepared to increase the public debt to offer $5 billion in cheap loans to corporations that are out to destroy the environment and trample over the rights of Aboriginal communities.
“He's even prepared to subsidise these irresponsible corporate adventures when they are commercially unviable.
“It proves that the Abbott's real objective is simply to help his corporate mates get even richer no matter what the cost to environment and community.”