Grassroots Campaign Challenges Adani Project in Australia

Adani Group’s plans for a massive coalmine and rail connection in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are looking increasingly shaky, thanks to a fierce grassroots campaign opposing the project.

The Carmichael Coal Mine was first proposed in 2010 by the Indian conglomerate, headed by billionaire Gautam Adani. With a projected lifetime of 60 years and estimated total production of 2.3 billion tonnes of thermal coal, the mine would be one of the largest coal mines in the world.

But the mine, and the associated 189km rail line to Adani’s port at Abbot Point, have faced dogged opposition from environmentalists, farmers and ordinary Australians who are concerned about the environmental risks, Adani’s ethical and environmental track record and the potential use of taxpayer funds to support the project. The mine will suck substantial groundwater from nearby farming lands and risk polluting nearby rivers. It will export dirty coal to India that will accelerate global warming, and will transport that coal directly across the already-vulnerable Great Barrier Reef. Meanwhile Adani companies are under investigation, or have been in the past, for corruption, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion in India.

What started as pockets of localised lobbying has grown into a coordinated campaign under the umbrella of #StopAdani. Stop Adani has engaged a diverse cross-section of the community in public protests and awareness-raising. A number of advocacy groups, including Jesuit Social Services, have joined the associated Stop Adani Coalition which undertakes behind-the-scenes lobbying of politicians and business groups. Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards leads the Justice in Mining network, and this connection spurred the organisation’s involvement in the campaign. The Justice in Mining Network advocates for equity and sustainability in mining projects, and believes the Adani project fails on both equity and sustainability grounds.

The Queensland community is divided over the proposed project, with the prospect of new jobs attracting significant local support as well as the backing of the federal Government. But the exact number of anticipated positions is unclear, with an Adani executive contradicting the company’s initial promise of 10,000 jobs and suggesting the number may instead be closer to 1460. Opponents of the controversial plan also argue that any additional employment opportunities will be more an offset by damage to the tourism industry, particularly relating to the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this year Deloitte Access Economics released a report valuing the economic, social and “icon” value of the Great Barrier Reef at $56 billion. The report also found the reef employs 64,000 Australians — 39,000 directly and a further 25,000 indirectly – dwarfing the employment figures associated with the Adani project.

Supporters of the mine argue that the coal is need in India to provide electricity for impoverished locals. But activists and environmental experts say the impact of the mine, which will result in emissions greater than New York City, will be devastating. These emissions are expected to significantly hinder attempts to keep global warming below the important 2-degree threshold. According to #StopAdani, burning the coal will kill large tracts of the Great Barrier Reef within 20 years.

A federal government plan to extend concessional funding to the Carmichael project via the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) received a recent blow following the re-election of the Labor government in Queensland, with the state Premier fulfilling a promise to deny support for the loan. Adding to Adani’s woes, pressure from the Australian Conservation Foundation and former foreign minister Bob Carr resulted in news this month that several Chinese funders would not collaborate on the project.

Part of Adani’s determination to proceed with the Carmichael mine and associated infrastructure relates to its existing $1.5 billion project at Abbot Point. The port is currently only half used, and the Carmichael project would address this underuse. But Abbot Point is due for refinancing next year and Westpac, the current major lender, has indicated it will cease involvement with the project on environmental concerns. Adani is, then, facing a difficult battle to find financing on a number of fronts.

Australian courts are still to hear legal action brought by representatives of the Wangan and Jagalingou indigenous groups, the traditional owners of the site of the mine. And vehement campaigning against the project continues across the country.

But with $1.5 billion already invested, Adani has a lot to lose. The company has already shown it does not back down willingly. Stop Adani has coordinated a remarkably successful campaign, but the fight is not over just yet.


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