Adani’s Government Goons

Unpacking how political pressure turns everything tits up

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Words || Lucy MacCulloch

On the 8th of April 2019, the Environment Minister, Melissa Price, approved the final construction check needed on a Federal level for Adani’s groundwater management plan. This means one step closer to the demolition of our unique Australian coastlines, but there is still time for you to make an impact.

To date, only 16 of 25 environmental approvals have been finalised by the governments. With the Queensland government holding most of the power for the final approvals, the fact they have been sitting with the contract for over 18 months, if we make our voices loud enough it seems they will likely decline.

While Melissa Price claimed she gave the green light because the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia were happy with Adani’s revised plans, documents obtained by the ABC appear to contradict the idea that Adani accepted the changes in full. Their February report was highly critical of the mine, asserting it was filled with errors, false assumptions (such as underestimating farmers’ reliance on bore water), and was incompatible in attempts to protect or monitor the surrounding environment. As such, environmental groups have questioned whether Adani would have had time to make the needed sufficient changes to construction plans. Claims that the decision was rushed intensified further when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the election just two days after Melissa Price’s approval, the Labor Environment Minister stating the decision, “reeks of political interference”.

Indeed, Price has faced plenty of animosity from her Liberal colleagues about her perceived delay in approving Adani. The Queensland Liberal opposition called it, “a disgrace” and Queensland senator James McGrath said he would publicly call for her resignation unless she approved the mine. She was placed under massive pressure from the public and specifically the MPs by the national party to approve the construction. Both Labor and Green’s parties are calling into question if she was bullied into this decision, and therefore should be revised. Adani has also caused divide within the party, with rural ministers strongly supporting the project for its perceived ability to provide job opportunities while metro ministers fear it could damage their chances of winning.

The Liberals’ persistence despite the level of controversy and public outcry has left some people wondering whether donations have played a role. Liberal MP Michelle Landry recently acknowledged that Adani had contributed to her campaign, though she didn’t know how much. The Australian Conservation Foundation subsequently investigated where else Adani has made donations and found that they’ve given the Liberal and National parties $60,800 since the last federal election; $30,000 to One Nation, and $2,200 to Labor, though Labor has since promised to return it. Notably, this data is only available because of Queensland’s real time donation disclosure laws – it can take up to 18 months for federal contributions to become public.

Australia’s political donation disclosure is somewhat inadequate, to put it lightly. Contributions under $13,800 don’t have to be disclosed, which seems like a pretty easy way to instantly game the system and resulted in $56 million in donations to both Labor and Liberal parties being unaccounted for during 2017 – 2018.  

So while we currently don’t know how that $60,800 fits into the bigger financial picture, we do know Adani is currently a major priority for the Liberal and National coalition. Things less of a priority? Indigenous culture, for one. The Carmichael mine would be located near the Doongmabulla Springs, the most sacred site for the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners as it is where the water spirit, or rainbow serpent, lives. Currently, one of the few things delaying the mine is an appeal by the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council, who have challenged the validity of Adani’s Indigenous Land Use Agreement, saying Adani manipulated the native title process. While previously dismissed by the Federal court last year, they’re due to head back in May, back to a system that has notably been described by the UN as “racially discriminatory”.

The mine also poses a risk to the black-throated finch, which is currently at risk of extinction. Currently, 775 projects have overlapped with the bird’s habitat – and only one has been denied due to its impact on the bird, despite the 20-year-old law requiring each project to be approved by the government in an aim to protect the bird. As a result, the finch has lost more than 80% of its natural habitat, its primary location now in the Carmichael area. While Adani has pledged to keep 33,000 hectares of land for conservation offsets, a University of Queensland study has questioned the effectiveness of such offsets, and additionally stated the mine would clear 6000 hectares of “crucial habitat” for the black-throated finch.

The most well-known environmental impact of the Adani mine is probably the Great Barrier Reef. While already mostly dead, the mine would require a million metres of seafloor to be dredged up, threatening already vulnerable marine life such as dugongs, turtles and dolphins. It would also emit up to 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon pollution over its lifetime, which would further warm the ocean and lead to another wave of coral bleaching. Additionally, the increased amount of coal and oil ships increase the likelihood of an oil spill or other ecological disaster. Adani already went over the pollution discharge limit by 800% back in 2017, releasing coal-laden water into the Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and significant wetlands.

Its economic benefits for Queensland are also debatable, as Adani would use 12.5 billion litres of water despite the state currently being stricken by drought. Additionally, the renewables industry is predicted to provide up to 60,000 jobs over the next decade, while coal is expected to be retired by 70% by 2040, and possibly sooner. Economically the project is unsupported as, all the big banks declined to back the project. and the world demand for coal has declined 8% since it’s peak in 2014. The destroying of our heritage is not even going to be worth a penny.

So, there you have it: it costs just $60,800 to get an environmental minister to ignore the environmental and cultural ramifications a poorly designed mine could have.

If you wish to support those fighting against Adani, consider donating to the Indigenous Youth Climate network, Seed, and other organisations such as the ACF and AYCC.