Thus Spake Mungo: Shorten hedging his bets on Adani

By Mungo MacCallum

Bill Shorten has finally taken a firm position on the Adani coal mine: procrastination.

The opposition leader tells us that when (not if – there can surely be no doubt of it) Labor becomes government, he will make a decision. And as is almost always the case with our alternative prime minister, it is not clear just what that means.

Shorten has virtuously ruled out tearing up contracts, which removes at least part of the sovereign risk involved the venture. Instead he has apparently discussed ways of means of finding further loopholes in the Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which may be somewhat more difficult.

Over the years Adani has negotiated its way through a myriad of objections by various activist groups, most recently the Wilderness Society, and the company has eventually won, achieving both the federal and state permissions needed. The idea that there can still be more wiggle room may be wishful thinking. But the mere fact that Shorten has been talking about it – even if semi-privately – will give Gautam Adani and his fellow moguls something else to worry about, and of course that was the real point of the exercise.

The revelation came from the philanthropic greenie Geoff Cousins, a long time opponent of Adani who took Shorten on a working trip (not, in spite of Malcolm Turnbull’s attempted put down, a junket) to the Great Barrier Reef and beyond in an attempt to get the ultra-cautious politician off the fence; to make him say, in the manner of Bob Hawke with the Franklin dam, that he would do everything in his power to scuttle Adani, and he would make it an issue in the next election.

Shorten, no Bob Hawke, has not and will not do so – at least not without overwhelming support in the polls, or at least enough of it to blunt any backlash from regional Queensland. So he continues the line that Adani is dubious but mining is fine.

The implication seems to be that if he can just get Adani off the table, the rest of the Galilee Basin can be exploited without hindrance. This, of course, would be deeply unsatisfactory to the green movement, which wants, at a minimum, a guarantee of no new coal mines and ultimately the demise of those which are already operating. Obviously this will not happen in the foreseeable future, so for the moment the attention is on Adani, and there are some signs that the conglomerate is starting to weigh up whether to cut its already considerable losses.

The company’s normal business model is to work through compliant governments to extract concessions, subsidies and whatever perks are available in order to rape and pillage the local economy – to demand feather bedding to the point of corruption. It has had great success in its native India, but its tentacles have spread among many vulnerable economies across the world. Thus when it cast its beady and greedy eyes on Australia, it assumed that the pattern would be the same.

And at first it appeared that all was going to plan. The feds were enthusiastic: there was a promise (well, at least a wink and nudge) that a lazy billion dollars could be found for a very cheap and probably never to be repaid loan to finance a railway from the mine to Abbott Point before shipping the coal across the reef and wherever it could find customers.

The Queensland government instantly offered a long financial holiday so no actual royalties had to be paid. The fantasy of an El Dorado in an economically deprived area was promulgated: someone pulled the figure of 10,000 new jobs out of a hat, a number which has been tirelessly repeated in spite the fact (admitted by Adani itself) that the reality would be little more than a tenth of the propaganda. The public had visions of the new, endless reprise of the resources boom for the lucky country. It was all go.

But then things started to turn sour. The demand for coal, and especially for dirty thermal coal, was not endless: if it had to stand on its own merits (which Adani had no intention of doing – why break the habit of a lifetime) the mine might not be quite the bonanza the spin masters were spruiking. Local banks, encouraged by a forceful and effective campaign from environmentalists, decided that perhaps there were wiser and less controversial investments for their funds.

Then, unexpectedly, the Queensland government kyboshed the Infrastructure Fund’s billion-dollar loan to the railway. Given that Adani had previously maintained that it didn’t really need the money anyway, this should not have been a deal-breaker, and in itself it wasn’t; but it was another stumbling block on what was meant to be an untroubled way to an offshore tax haven.

And the anti-Adani movement was ramping up; the company had already  deferred its starting date seven separate times, with the prospect of more to come. So there is little doubt that if Shorten was prepared to announce that Labor was off the cart, it would be a serious blow. Cousins certainly thought so, which is why he was putting the screws on Shorten to take the plunge: he has said that if this happened, the project would be killed stone dead.

The theory was that Shorten would not have to explain how or when he would act in government: the mere fact of a well-publicised withdrawal of any support for Adani would be sufficient, and the theory may well be right. Shorten is not yet ready to test it; however, sooner rather than later he may have no choice. Turnbull and his troops have apparently convinced the public that the opposition leader is two faced, prepared to say whatever suits his audience, is devious and untrustworthy and must therefore be rejected by the voters. Shorten can probably wear the opprobrium, as long as his polling holds up, but the hard heads in the ALP backrooms may be less sanguine.

There is an old schoolyard joke which goes thus: Question: How do you keep an idiot in suspense? Answer: I’ll tell you next week. The voters will not be taken for idiots forever. Procrastination may be a tactic but it is not a long term strategy, much less a policy. One way or another, Shorten has to decide.





8 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: Shorten hedging his bets on Adani”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    While I munch down on some Em and Ens, that good Australian man or the Umm and Ahh that is so good for a quote, Bill Shorten, well he has shortened the odds and shifted his feet and his position has became more rigid and upright in which way he was leaning and now he straightens up to the straight and narrow to stand on both feet of that so-Australian position of procrastination.

  2. Neville says:

    It would be interesting reading how much actual money this mob from India have paid in Australian currency for what they have achieved so far with their own money and how much they have received so far in tax write offs for their losses incurred in the numerous start up dates that would have incurred costs associated with their operation and that also applies to their contractors , in fact it could be a boomer of a time making money without actually having to actually dig anything .

  3. Chris Bourne says:

    With what’s happening in power at the moment and I’m a liberal voter, I believe labor will get in. Then adani will go ahead but with all asylum seekers that will come. in there will be lot’s of indian workers ready, not australians.
    Where will we be ahead

  4. robot says:

    Clearly questions about Adani, even to a bogoted robot. But some number crunching reveals facts about the general opposition to coal per se, which noone much discusses. We have over 100 winds farms already not making a dash of difference. Total, Vic has proposals for 3,600, most done and dusted, being what is necessary to match a few coal fired plants that are left. Multiply by the number of states and territories should they follow suit. Double for solar farms. Tripple for virtual power stations. None of this makes itself, not without another big end of town, steal, mining rare earths, flourides, arsenic, hydrochloric acid, a range of carcinogens, and a whole lot of extra recycling. Whilst the supra techs are starting to derive electricity from the airwaves. It don’t compute.

  5. robot says:

    Quadruple for electric cars. By then though, we won’t have cars at all unless on scripted days, nor aeroplanes, hard to get them off the ground without special fuel. Not a problem we won’t need to travel, won’t have ships either. We also won’t have wars, we won’t know a thing about the rest of the world save for the Net, in our idealistic villages.
    This article was linked to Parkinson’s, so I will link: nothing comes from nothing, not even sunlight. The future business world is already accommodating renewable technology, in fact, China is looking forward to it. The trillions involved will eventually mean cheaper prices, maybe. Sunlight used to be free, like water, air, thought. Now it all comes at a price.

  6. Stephen Lewis Whale says:

    Interesting view on Shorten and the ALP
    Lets remember this – Shorten is part of the right faction of Labor
    Traditionally the right faction is supportive of logging, mining and is not known for encouraging renewable energy
    The ALP in Qld is delivering on 6 billion investment in renewable energy soruces- wind, solar etc
    Bill Shorten at a federal level has come out swinging and condemns the Adani mine to fail
    (but of course if he tears up contracts Aussie tax payers will lose 100s of millions- so he has to sit on the fence and state that the contracts cant be torn up- he is brave enough to state the truth of the parties intentions)

    That is part of the reason people will vote ALP in the next federal election- he is willing to stand up against Adani and yet he is also ready to admit that his party are caught in a financial headlock- is he just trying to win Batman bi election- it could be a little more than that- but definitely that is part of the plan – ( I believe this latest media release of ALP opposing Adani is really not that exciting for most people in the country)
    At this stage we are all sick of hearing the A word- when does the license run out to build the stupid thing anyways?

  7. Tuatha says:

    The eternal mystery of Talcum is that he didn’t moon the trog/bigot brigade after his “cunning plan” win of the election. Consider.
    Reduced to a single seat, he could have said, “Back me, utterly & totally, or sack me so that I can resign and force a by-election. I will back perennial candidate Geoff Cousins whom the voters will so elect. Choose wisely, think of those soft leather benches and deep troughs.”

  8. Back to our delayed short-stop. Dear Bill, the billy’s already at the boil;
    get it! Time to show your true Adani colours since we already know
    you’re a sell out.

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