Adani's proposed 40-kilometre-long Carmichael mine complex* has been in the news more than usual lately. Multi-billionaire chairman Gautam Adani visited Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, where PM Malcolm Turnbull more or less promised him a whopper of a subsidy to build a railway line to get his coal from the Central Queensland mine to Abbot Point for export to India. The $1 billion will come from the North Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF). You may remember that during his election campaign Turnbull assured Australian voters that no public money would go to fund the mine; and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg underlined the fact that the project must stand on its own two feet. How quickly things can change when, amidst worsening opinion polls and growing budget deficits, you have to be seen to be delivering on your favourite mantra, 'jobs and growth'.
Mr Adani then popped up in Townsville with Premier Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk to announce that the town would be the regional headquarters for the mine. There were lots of smiles, more promises, and hard hats. 'The coal will be mined in regional Queensland by regional Queenslanders,' Ms Palaszczuk beamed. I do hope that the good people of Townsville are not deceived, or deluded.
In the beginning, Adani claimed their project would create 10,000 jobs. In Brisbane's Land Court 18 months ago, however, Adani's economics expert witness, Dr Jerome Fahrer, admitted the figure would be more in the order of 1460. The royalties coming Queensland's way had similarly been over-estimated, he added. In the meantime, mechanisation of the coal industry proceeds apace. As Townsville's mayor, Jenny Hill, encouraged Adani CEO Jeyakumar Janakaraj to make her city the project's remote operations centre, she was acknowledging the reality of driverless trucks, remotely operated drilling and blasting, automated trains and remote train loading.
Before Gautam Adani even got here, environmentalists reacted with outrage to the Queensland Government's announcement they were 'progressing' the mine by awarding it a new status. This news slipped out on a quiet Sunday in October, funnily enough as I enjoyed morning tea with the Minister for the Environment, Steven Miles, and his constituents in Barden. He must have been relieved no one raised the subject of Carmichael: we were all concentrating on issues closer to home (such as the Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area on a Ramsar Site at Cleveland). I was incensed when I got home and read the headlines. I still am.
Declaring the project to be 'critical infrastructure' puts it beyond the reach of environmental challenges. Here, five conservation scientists nail the reasons why such fast-tracking is not a good idea, each concern of major significance in its own right.
Queensland's State Development Minister Anthony Lynham is satisfied there are sufficient environmental protections in place, he claims. Is he not losing sleep over the billions of litres of water that will be used by Adani each year in the extraction process, in an arid region heavily dependent on Great Artesian Basin water supply that is already not being replenished to the level it once was? Does he really believe that the endangered Black-throated Finch's core population, currently at home on the proposed mine site, will translocate to an offset somewhere else in the Desert Uplands that isn't required to be managed until a year after mine construction begins? Is he confident that increased traffic of huge coal carriers picking their way through the Great Barrier Reef will not exacerbate the risk to an already stressed and probably terminally damaged global icon, the welfare of which is Australia's immediate responsibility? And what about all those people employed in Reef tourism? About 70,000 of them, I believe. Their jobs appear to count for less in a state that boasts about its mining priorities.
Millions of Australians are worried about the Reef – and related environmental problems, such as land clearing, water management, and the ill-effects of coal seam gas production. They don't appear to make the link, however, between their country's role in fossil-fuelled climate disruption and coral bleaching. They don't pressurise the federal government to deliver on its commitments to the Paris Climate Conference Agreement, which are rarely mentioned. Carbon emissions reduction targets are being swept beneath Canberra's deepest pile carpet. Turnbull gets away with this by deflecting media attention to electricity prices, tax cuts and jobs creation.
There's a huge disconnect between what some voters believe and how they act. If the need for jobs and cheap power bills for battling Aussie families is forced down your throat daily by moribund mainstream media, it's harder to shout out, 'Hey, I don't want any more coal mines. I do want huge clean energy investment (in renewables, not gas). We should all be reducing our emissions (right down to gadgets and dog food). It's not the end of the world if the economy doesn't grow every quarter (a bit revolutionary, eh?) In fact, actually, I'm over capitalism!'
Emissions reduction is the single most important challenge this country faces. Remember when Turnbull supported the idea of an emissions trading scheme, way back in 2009? For a brief, glorious moment there was even the possibility of bipartisan agreement. If we weren't so cynical about pollies and their ambition, it would be hard to believe that this same man is today at the behest of climate-change-denying factions on the right of his party and their big mates, The Nats, in order to hold on to his slimmest of majorities.
To reduce emissions soonest, all coal must stay in the ground, from today, not a few years hence. It's that simple. There must be no new mines.
What's not so simple is how to vote to achieve that. One evening last week, I was at a gathering of like minds in Brisbane where a lady asked, with more than a hint of anxiety in her voice, how she should vote to achieve this outcome. There is little to choose between the two main parties. They are both funded by the mining industry. Labor, by definition, cannot be seen to be denying northern Queenslanders job opportunities. The Greens make the right noises, but the depth of Australian antipathy to this party is profound – and still mystifying to this European. Before we know where we are, we'll have Pauline Hanson's One Nation party splitting the vote in the next Queensland state election and exerting undue influence via an assortment of nutjobs.
Tell your would-be representatives what you expect. Shout it loud, via whichever social media you favour. Don't be constrained by their agendas.
Can you be bothered? Will Australians only worry about parched deserted farms when the last loaf of bread has disappeared off the shelf? About sea levels rising when their beach houses sink beneath the storm surge? When climate refugees arrive in their thousands? One or two of you might still have a job in Adani's mine, though, so she'll be right.
* The Carmichael mine comprises six open cut and five underground pits, extending over 270 square kilometres, with an even larger mine site area (447 sq km). The original plan was to produce 60 million tonnes of coal a year, but this was recently revised down to 30 or 40 million. Mine operations are expected to use 12 billion litres of water a year.