The Risk Of Cashing In On The Reef


Last Friday financial analysts across India opened their copy of the Financial Times and saw a full-page advertisement asking if they were going to "sink your profits on the Great Barrier Reef". The ad was an investor alert suggesting the GVK/Gina Rinehart Alpha mine proposed for the Galilee Basin in Queensland may be a riskier investment option than they imagined.

It detailed the kind of risks that currently confronted the project, beginning with the fact that the project had become embroiled in a major public controversy. The ad explained to Indian investors how the clock had now been stopped on the environmental approval process for the project due to conflict between state and federal governments and that the project was seriously exposed to carbon and water related risks (both supply risks and impacts of the mine and rail line).

It also reminded investors and analysts the Alpha mine would be larger than any coal mine currently operating in Australia — posing serious project management risks for GVK — which has never built a mine in Australia.

It finished saying there was widespread and growing public controversy over the project and that it would continue to face sustained opposition from landowners and environmentalists. As a result of all of the above, the mine, rail and port were likely to experience lengthy delays and significant cost blowouts.

The Galilee Basin site is a $6.4 billion project, bigger than any other coal mine in Australia at 30 million tonnes of coal per year. That coal will generate the equivalent in carbon emissions of 18 million extra cars on the road every year.

It is a vertically integrated project that includes a 500 km railway line from Alpha to Abbot Point. And all of this will generate hundreds of extra ship movements through the Great Barrier Reef every year.

Treasurer Wayne Swan got out on the front foot to put the slipper in, saying he believed the advertisement was "deplorable".

"They (Greenpeace and GetUp!) should be condemned and I condemn them in the strongest possible way," he said.

In a moment of solidarity, QLD Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, said he backed the Treasurer in his condemnation saying, "I think it could be damaging for the Queensland economy."

Nationals Senator Ron Boswell also joined Wayne Swan in condemning the advertisement, describing it as "very un-Australian … It’s guerrilla tactics, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen."

Putting aside the name calling and hyperbole, there is a larger issue at stake here and that is the question about whose interests these men are representing. Because all these men — Wayne Swan, Jeff Seeney, Campbell Newman and Ron Boswell — are public servants elected by the Australian people to care for the Australian nation and country.

So when the Treasurer refers to the ad as "deplorable" what is he referring to? Is he angry the ad is informing potential investors of the various risks confronting the project?

If so, does he seriously think investors should be kept in the dark about those risks? Or does he think it should be left up to GVK and Gina Rinehart to inform investors about the real state of play?

As someone paid to represent the interests of the Queenslanders within his electorate how does he square off the fact that if GVK’s and Rinehart’s mine go ahead it will see hundreds of extra coal tankers steaming through the Reef, will be largely serviced by a combination of Fly In Fly Out and foreign workers and will continue to impact on the manufacturing and tourism sector in his own home state?

Jeff Seeney has also been elected to represent the interests of the Queensland community and at first glance his condemnation seems like a fairly predictable response. Except that this is the same man Environment Minister Tony Burke said he could no longer trust, "… with Queensland jobs. I cannot trust them with the Great Barrier Reef," at his historic press conference last Tuesday.

Seeney is operating on the assumption that what is good for transnational mining companies is good for working Queenslanders, but as research done by The Australia Institute makes clear, that is an increasingly flawed assumption.

Environmental NGO’s may look like an easy target when they seek to challenge the right of powerful interest groups like the coal lobby. It’s certainly nothing new to see politicians on every side fall in behind the powerful, but it is not in the interests of a smart, resilient, beautiful and growing Australian nation to leave these comments unchallenged.

And it is certainly not in the interests of the 54,000 Queenslanders who make their living from a healthy Great Barrier Reef. Nor is it in the interests of the men and women across Queensland who are losing their employment just because they made the call to find work in manufacturing. Finally, somebody must stand up for the interests of the Great Barrier Reef, especially if the politicians will not.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.