Adani and the War Over Coal
Review by John Biggs
Dr Quentin Beresford's The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd1 describes how successive Tasmanian governments gave timber corporation Gunns a monopoly of the forestry industry. Gunns became immensely rich, while the Government's Forestry Tasmania went into increasing debt. The damage to the Tasmanian landscape, to the public purse and to public respect for politicians was immense. And all for nothing, for Gunns imploded through its own greed, poor planning and hubris: the classic story of crony capitalism.
The Adani story is worse ‒ politically and morally. Around the turn of this century, there was a frantic rush by China and India to industrialise. Both countries then saw that coal was the way to go. The Australian Galilee Basin contains huge deposits of quality low ash coal and several companies fought for the privilege of extracting it, including Adani, another Indian company in cahoots with Gina Rinehart, a Chinese company and Clive Palmer. Conservation groups, Indigenous people and, eventually, a strong majority of ordinary Australians are outraged.2 In this book, Dr Beresford brings his sharp research and writing skills to tell this story of the war over coal.
Gautam Adani had close connections with India's PM Narendra Modi, who protected Adani over environmental and human rights violations in India.3 Adani donated heavily to both major Australian parties, especially to the Coalition. The Abbott and subsequent Coalition governments pushed for Adani as hard as they could. At first, so did Labor, but then sort of didn't, but if certain conditions are met, well, maybe …
The major issues in dispute, as Beresford see it, are as follows.
Climate change: If all the Carmichael coal is burned – here or anywhere – the carbon emissions would be more than Australia already produces. That would likely tip global warming irreversibly.4 The pro-Adani group deny this.5
Great Barrier Reef: The Reef is already seriously endangered by climate change, drainage from fertilised farmlands, and starfish. The mine would make matters immeasurably worse, as dredging (authorised by Labor's Tony Burke6) has already indicated. Julie Bishop even denied the Great Barrier Reef would be in any danger.7 Beresford notes (p.361): 'None of the major parties has been prepared to unequivocally put the reef's long-term health over the interests of the fossil fuel industry.'
Great Artesian Basin: The Great Artesian Basin, vital for Australian agriculture, would be seriously endangered by the mine, either through using the water or by puncturing and draining the Basin.8 Adani supporters say this is exaggerated, and anyway coal mining is a thirsty business.
Native title: Doongmabulla Springs is in the mining area and is of high cultural significance to the Wangan and Jagalingou peoples.9 However Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) that favour developers have been foisted onto the locals.10 These are currently under appeal.
Economic case: The costs of mining coal are now higher than the costs of producing renewables ‒ and the difference is rapidly widening. With Adani's projected costs, current debts and likely returns, Adani is predicted to lose crippling amounts of money if it proceeds.
Adani's poor safety, criminal and environmental record
First in India and now here, Adani operations have already badly polluted land in the Carmichael region. Given all of this, why on Earth would Australian governments be so determined to support the Adani project? Beresford discusses these issues and others in depth. His findings and assertions are fully referenced, his arguments convincing.
While much of this is due to the shocking judgement and wickedness of individual people, Beresford sees (p.360) as even more important the way in which the coal wars have transformed politics: 'The political ties … between the fossil fuel power network and the Liberal/National parties has meant the rise of anti-environmentalism as a mainstream feature of Australian political debate along with the sidelining of science in the debate over policy.'
Beresford's story of the devious and secretive negotiations between Adani and Federal and Queensland governments is appalling. But, given the falling away of needed financial support for the mine by Indian, Chinese and all four major Australian banks, as well as Adani's level of indebtedness, it surely looks like game over. However, given the skulduggery and/or gullibility of so many politicians, with Clive Palmer looming fatly in the shadows, the final result is still too soon to call.
This book should be of extreme interest to concerned citizens, while all politicians should be locked in a room to read it, not to be let out until they can pass a comprehension test on its contents.
John Biggs is a writer who lives in Hobart.
Reprinted from Independent Australia.
Published in Chain Reaction #135, April 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
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