A week ago, I was speaking at a Royal Society of NSW Forum on the topic “Getting climate policy back on track” when the news came through that Adani had announced a start to the Carmichael mine “before Christmas”, funded from the company’s own reserves. With Christmas now less than three weeks away, where do things stand?
It’s evident that, as with previous construction starts, this one won’t be on a large scale. Adani has just posted its first job opening for a year, on the portal it set up with great fanfare in mid-2017. It’s for a Senior Mine Planning Engineer a “newly changed and developed role reporting to the Head Mine Operations”. Given that Adani has announced a proposal that’s radically different from the one they were running last year, you might have expected that a Senior Mine Planning Engineer would have been on the job for some time, heading a substantial team. Still, it’s likely that some kind of activity will take place, even if it’s only symbolic.
The big question is how Labor will respond, since it’s highly likely to be in office by the time any serious mining activity starts. So far the signs have been mixed. Queensland Premier Palaszczuk has said, correctly, that this is effectively a new proposal, and will need new approvals. On the other hand, Penny Wong has suggested that, once contracts are signed, the dreaded spectre of “sovereign risk” will mean that the government cannot intervene. This is a bogus argument in the specific case of Adani, but the whole idea needs to be challenged. Governments routinely break their promises to voters, and corporations regularly renege on their commitments to governments, but, in the era of neoliberalism, promises made by governments to corporation have come to be held sacred.