Interview with Fran Kelly – RN Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 April 2017



FRAN KELLY: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. Jason Clare, welcome to breakfast.


KELLY: I’ll come to the Northern Australia investment Facility in a moment. But first, can I clarify Labor’s position on the Carmichael mine itself? Can we be clear here, does Federal Labor still support this mine?

CLARE: This is a project that if it goes ahead it will create lots of jobs. Barnaby Joyce made that point yesterday. He’s right. He is right on this. If it goes ahead and creates jobs that’s terrific, but it’s about how you do it. What Bill Shorten and I have said is that this needs to go through a scrupulous process of environmental approvals. That all has to be done by the Commonwealth Government and by the State Government of Queensland. The project should stand on its own two feet. It shouldn’t be supported with the tax payers’ money.

KELLY: Okay, but we heard Barnaby Joyce. He said the loan from the infrastructure fund, the Northern Australian fund, is quote: “a tipping point”, which seemed to be implying the mine probably wouldn’t proceed without the money. Do you understand this to be true? Have you looked into this?

CLARE: No, I think that is wrong. I think Barnaby is wrong on that point. Something that is lost in this debate about whether tax payers should be providing support to build this rail line is – what are the rules that this Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has to comply with when they decide whether they’re going to tip taxpayer money into private projects?

One of the rules is that they can only provide funding if a project is unlikely to go ahead without it. What Adani has said is that this funding is not critical, they’d love to have it, they’d love to have a concessional loan from the Commonwealth, paid by taxpayers, but they’ve said that it’s not make or break. On that basis it does not meet the requirements of the Northern Australia Fund.

KELLY: Federal Labor does seem to be a bit out on its own on this point. The Turnbull Government sounds like it’s keen to facilitate the loan, though it can’t direct the fund. The Queensland Labor State Government wants to get the money, it wants that loan so this mine will definitely go ahead. It wants those jobs, so too do the Australian Workers’ Union. You’re isolated on this politically, and that’s not going to endear you to many of those voters in some parts of Queensland, where you certainly don’t have many seats at the moment.

CLARE: Well the Government is all over the shop on this. Malcolm Turnbull in India is saying that this should be done independently by the board.

KELLY: Well everyone is saying that.

CLARE: Not Barnaby.

KELLY: Yes he is.

CLARE: Barnaby yesterday was basically directing the board to fund this project. I can understand Queensland, I can understand the unions saying – look there is $5 billion there to develop the north, you should go and look at using that fund to develop it.

But from the point of view of the Federal Government, you’ve got $5 billion dollars there to develop the north, you’ve got to make sure you make the best possible use of it.

The Government is talking about using 20 percent of it – $1 billion dollars for just one project. When you tiptoe across to the other side of Australia and you have a look at the big rail lines that were built in the Pilbara by BHP and by Rio and Fortescue and Roy Hill, they built those rail lines themselves

The argument we’re making here is that if you’ve got a big resource project in Queensland, it only makes sense that if a company is tipping billions of billions of dollars into a project to make it work and make a profit, they should build the rail line as well.

KELLY: There is an argument coming from some other quarters that the government should build the railway line because it’s going to develop this into a precinct. Open access to other mines is what Barnaby Joyce was talking about yesterday, ‘cash cow’ – they’re opening up this whole Galilee Basin precinct.

CLARE: This is new information because until now what we’ve been told is that Adani wanted an independent rail line from the mine to Abbot Point. A stand-alone railway line that only they could use. It seems like the Government is now trying to twist arms either inside the National Australia Infrastructural Facility, or inside Adani to have a multi-use rail line. 

KELLY: Would that change Labor’s position on this if it was a multi-use line?

CLARE: One more point, Fran. The company that runs the rail infrastructure for freight and for resources in Queensland have also put in an application into the fund. So it’s up to the Directors of this fund to have a look at all of those projects.

But the point I made before still remains the same, if you’ve got a big international resource company looking to establish a mine in Australia that is going to require 15 to 20 billion dollars to get up and running, it makes sense for them to build the rail line themselves.

KELLY: But would Labor’s position switch if the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility gave a loan for a multi-use railway line?

CLARE: The position is what I said just a moment ago. The rules say you can only tip money into a project if it wouldn’t go ahead without it. What Adani said is this isn’t critical, it’s not make or break. These are Adani’s words, not mine. They’d love tax payers’ money to do the job, but they can get the money somewhere else.

KELLY: So I come back to my original question. You’re opposed to the loan for the railway line, but you support the Carmichael mine, is that right?

CLARE: Look back at what I’ve said, I think I’ve been clear. This means jobs for Northern Australia. Let me make one point very clear, places like Mackay and places like Bowen have just been flogged to death by Cyclone Debbie in the North. This is a place that has been hit by natural disaster. It is also a place that has been hit very hard by changes in the economy.

For people in Sydney or Melbourne, there are lots of jobs being created at the moment, about half the jobs that have been created in Australia in the last ten years have been within a three kilometre radius of Collins Street and Pitt Street. Life’s very different up in the north, and we’ve got to do what we can to create more jobs up there. These are places where One Nation is polling ten, twenty, thirty percent because people are struggling.

The point we’re making is when you do big projects like this, it makes sense for the private sector to fund them, rather than the tax payer.

KELLY: How does it make sense for Australia to be supporting, and our political parties to be encouraging a project which would build the biggest coalmine in the Southern Hemisphere, at the same time that we’re supporting movement to a zero carbon future? How do you square that circle?

CLARE: The point I’d make is this, coal is going to be a part of the energy mix in Australia.

KELLY: For how long?

CLARE: For decades to come.

KELLY: At the same level for decades to come?

CLARE: At the moment in China and India, about 70 percent of their electricity is produced with coal. By the middle of the century, by 2050, it will be around about 50 percent – 50 percent of the electricity produced in India and China roughly will be from coal. That will require more coal because people will want more electricity.

So the key here, Fran, is how we’re going to make that coal being used to produce electricity all around the world with as low emissions as possible. Whether we like it or not, coal is going to be burnt for decades and decades to come.

KELLY: You think the world needs this huge coalmine to provide the coal that is going to be required for decades and decades to come, even as we move to zero carbon future by 2050?

CLARE: I think if you asked Adani they’d say that if they don’t get the coal from here, they will get it from somewhere else. If you asked Prime Minister Modi, he’d say if India doesn’t get the energy from a mine like this, they’ll get it from somewhere else.

KELLY: Just another final question to do with the mine, because the Prime Minister has promised Adani that the Native Title issue hindering the mining development will be fixed. Do you back the Prime Minister’s promise to fix the Native Title Act to help Adani?

CLARE: This is not about Adani, this is about a full Federal Court decision called McGlade that related to a case in Western Australia a couple of weeks ago. The impact of that decision upsets about 120 Indigenous Land Use Agreements right across Australia, a lot of them in Queensland. Some will affect the resource industry, some will affect farming, and some will affect National Parks as well.

We’ve said that we are very keen to work with the government to fix this. We’ve got to fix the problem created by this court case that creates a lot of uncertainty for a lot of Indigenous groups that have signed up to ILUAs over the last two decades. George Brandis has put some things into this Bill at the last minute without consulting Indigenous groups. People like Senator Pat Dodson have said to me and to my colleagues that we need to consult on this before the Bill gets finally dealt with by the Senate. That’s what we’re doing.

KELLY: Jason Clare, thank you very much.

CLARE: Thanks very much Fran.

KELLY: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.