Australia may now be ‘open for business’, as our prime monster Tony Abbott remarked, but soon there may be no decent parts of Australia left to do business on.
While successive Australian governments have placed a laudable emphasis on a sound economy, none has seemed to grasp fully that a human economy, even the particularly dodgy one trading trillions in invisible commodities, is not possible without a natural environment healthy enough to sustain all this frantic, ant-like activity.
A case in point is the federal government’s recent cavalier approval of the massive Carmichael Mine west of Rockhampton in Queensland, covering 200 square kilometres and producing about 60 million tonnes of coal a year.
The project will also see the coal extracted sent by train to Abbot Point Port, and then shipped out through the Great Barrier Reef.
While the world’s smart economies are busy mining sunshine, and even Australia employs more people in solar industries than in coal, according to a report by The Australia Institute, the LibNats continue to help out their donor mates in the coal trade and their dodgy counterparts from overseas.
Assurances of ‘strict environmental conditions’ on the approval by environment minister Greg Hunt are unlikely to placate anyone apart from the feeble-minded who believe in the sanctity of a government minister’s promises.
Alarm bells are immediately set off by the passage of coal-laden ships past our World Heritage coral and Nemo-style piscine beauty, but the trouble begins even before the coal gets to the port.
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on coal seam gas and large coal mining developments has expressed its concerns about the impact of the mine on groundwater in the underlying and nearby Great Artesian Basin.
According to an ABC report, the committee had ‘little confidence’ in much of the modelling used by Indian developer Adani ‘and highlighted gaps in its data’.
And then to send the coal off to sea, to support India’s coal-fired power plants, Adani will need to dump up to three million cubic metres of sand and mud dredged from the sea bed to add new terminals and ship berths to its Abbot Point facilities.
And now to Adani itself, founded in 1988 by its chairman, Gautam Adani, a former diamond broker and commodity trader whose personal wealth is estimated at $US5.5 billion by Forbes magazine.
Its record on environmental matters in India is regarded as less than pristine. Australian activist group GetUp! has weighed into that record with a punishing video on YouTube (see below).
GetUp! has also claimed that someone from a subsidiary company of Adani had YouTube remove the video at one stage, claiming an earlier copyright of the material – see Peter Hannam’s story on SMH.
The Adani Group has been accused of both environmental destruction and corrupt behaviour in India. Greenpeace Australia has a PDF available of the Indian investigations, complete with links to relevant references.
As our own government seems not to have done due diligence on Adani’s history of behaviour, what hope can the average punter have to protect national treasures such as the Great Artesian Basin and the Great Barrier Reef?
While we do not have a nation’s ability to apply economic sanctions, the banks which finance big deals such as the Carmichael Mine are becoming increasingly sensitive to public opinion.
For example, in May this year Deutsche Bank pulled out of financing the Abbot Point coal port expansion, given the World Heritage Committee’s concerns about the Great Barrier Reef.
Interestingly, in the same week as the Carmichael approval, WikiLeaks released details of a Victorian Supreme Court suppression order issued on June 19 over allegations of corruption in a case involving Australian executives and overseas business dealings.
Under the order, the Australian media cannot report on it.
The alleged reason for the government seeking the order was ‘to prevent damage to Australia’s international relations’.Could that also include ‘to protect business deals currently in the works’?
The list of players allegedly involved is formidable but you can’t read about it here, even if you think it is ‘in the public interest’.