12 April, 2017
Courtesy of the Australian
If Bill Shorten wants to see jobs created in the Queensland outback, where youth unemployment is 38 per cent, he will slough off his pallid green veneer — an ugly tint on any Labor leader — and back the $16.5 billion Adani coalmine in the state’s Galilee Basin. Thousands of unemployed workers in Bowen, recently battered by Cyclone Debbie; in Townsville, which is reeling from the demise of the Queensland Nickel plant; and in Mackay, struggling in the wake of the resources downturn, would thank the Opposition Leader. But judging by his comments in Brisbane yesterday, Mr Shorten is more interested in the climate change sensibilities of voters in Balmain and Marrickville in inner Sydney than in jobs in Bowen and Mackay.
The Adani mine, in central Queensland, to be linked to a new terminal at Abbot Point near Bowen by a 388km rail line, is expected to create 10,000 jobs in construction and operations. It also will generate investment, development and jobs in the surrounding region, an injection that is needed desperately to bring hope and prosperity. The project is backed strongly by the Palaszczuk government and by Mr Shorten’s former union, the Australian Workers Union. As Queensland secretary Ben Swan said yesterday, after “an endless process of objections and obstacles” regional Queensland needs the project — it is too important to block.
After seven years of legal obstruction, much of it vigilante “lawfare” funded by activists with no connection to central Queensland, the opposition, to Mr Shorten’s shame, has added to the delays. Before parliament rose for the pre-budget break, Labor signalled its intention to block technical amendments to the Native Title Act to clear a roadblock delaying the project. Mr Shorten tried to blame Attorney-General George Brandis for the problem. But Mr Shorten’s comments yesterday, questioning whether the project “stacked up” commercially and environmentally — “not wrecking the environment on the way through” — suggested he has a different agenda in play. For the sake of Australia’s balance of trade, and federal and state budgets that would reap royalties and taxes worth $5.5bn across 10 years, Mr Shorten must do what he refused to do yesterday. He must promise to pass the amendments to the Native Title Act when parliament reconvenes next month. Doing so would expedite the resolution of native title issues surrounding the mine.
Mr Shorten tried to sound what he claimed was a “note of caution” yesterday about taxpayers underwriting a billion-dollar loan to build the rail line. That rail line, however, for which the Indian company has applied for a $900 million concessional loan from the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, would open up the vast, untapped potential of the Galilee coal province to other projects. Such productive infrastructure is essential for the Australian economy and for 200 million poverty-stricken Indians awaiting power. From an environmental perspective, Australia’s relatively cleaner and more efficient coal would reduce the carbon footprint of India’s extra power generation. Its power plants would need to burn 30 per cent more coal (from other sources) to generate the same power.
Labor’s blinkered obsession with renewable energy targets is already costing Australian consumers and businesses dearly, especially in South Australia. Mr Shorten must not let that obsession further delay a development project with the potential to transform the wellbeing of at least 10,000 families by bringing enterprise and hope to one of Australia’s most depressed regions.