Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Picture: AAP/Darren England
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Picture: AAP/Darren England

Shorten digs heels in to block Adani

BILL Shorten has sent a new, dire message to Adani. The Opposition Leader was on ABC's Insiders program yesterday and his language needs political interpretation.

When asked whether he supported his environment spokesman Mark Butler - a South Australian, Left factional heavyweight - tweeting he did not support the mega coal mine proceeding, Shorten said, "I think that's essentially Mark's judgment. He doesn't think it's going to happen. He doesn't support it.

"I think a lot of people feel that way. Our policy is that we won't put a single taxpayer dollar into the project.

"There's a lot of scepticism if the project's ever going to happen."

Asked what he thought the prospects were of the Adani mine proceeding if Labor won the next election, Shorten said, "Well, there's what happens before an election, I don't know … despite all the press releases coming out of Adani there's more hype than substance. History would tend to indicate that.

"If and when we are elected … I'll sit down with my Cabinet colleagues, we will work on the best science available, there will be no taxpayer money subsidising this coal project and we will see from there."

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Picture: AAP/Darren England
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Picture: AAP/Darren England

What does all that mean? In a nutshell, Adani has to start construction by the next election because if Shorten wins, the mine will be toast. That's what he meant by saying there are things that happen before an election.

It's political suicide for a government to undo thousands of jobs once they are operational.

His other telling line was about talking to his Cabinet colleagues and working on the best science available. Most of his influential frontbenchers do not support the mine.

Shorten's leadership is a balancing act of keeping the Right, the Left and the Industrial Left happy.

By mentioning the word "science", it is a clear hint this is the mechanism that Labor will use to knock it off.

What are the powers to stop that? He could attempt to ban it through emissions control legislation (by introducing new laws) or he could try to rescind the licence to develop the site through the Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act. All he would need to find was that there's a manifest breach of the conditions. Labor would "find" something. Or he could try to rescind export licences.

These are all radical and differential treatment for one company, but Adani has been treated differently to other coal mines.

There's a fair chance Adani would resort to legal action and Labor's move to block the mine would send a warning to investors about Australian's sovereign risk.

This is not new.

 

A mural of Bill Shorten in the Melbourne suburb of Preston before the Batman by-election last March. Picture: AAP/Luis Enrique Ascui
A mural of Bill Shorten in the Melbourne suburb of Preston before the Batman by-election last March. Picture: AAP/Luis Enrique Ascui

 

The Labor Andrews Government in Victoria ripped up a signed legally binding contract to develop a road. They were so bloody-minded about it that they paid out the value of the contract without receiving the road.

Lose/lose for taxpayers.

That's not the case with Adani but Adani could have a legal case.

If they are treated differently from every other coal mine developer, Adani could attempt to seek redress from the courts arguing that they've gone from a rules-based system to administrative fiat.

This is now a test for Scott Morrison.

Malcolm Turnbull held his nose when he spoke of his support for Adani. He never wanted to see it go ahead.

Turnbull was a renewables man and he and his office would privately have a crack that "households don't care where their power comes from. As long as it is cheap and reliable".

Turnbull was only half right. He always viewed coal through the prism of energy.

But all he needed to do was sit at Brisbane, Rockhampton, Mackay or Townsville airports for an hour and watch the fluoro uniforms fly in and out.

You don't see this when the taxpayer pays for you to have a private plane away from the commoners waiting to board their cattle-class seats.

Now Morrison has a choice. He could take the same "wishy-washy" approach as Turnbull or come out swinging for Queensland jobs.

And a side note, how prophetic was Capricornia MP Michelle Landry when she labelled Turnbull "wishy- washy"?

That was in 2016. The coal-loving MP held her marginal seat. Turnbull's political career has turned to ash.