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Great Barrier Reef pitted against coal jobs in Australia vote

Fate of Adani Group's $12.4-billion mine hinges on Queensland elections

Jason Scott & Perry Williams | Bloomberg 

Adani's coal mine project, protests against Adani coal mine
A protester holds a sign as he participates against Adani’s coal mine project in Australia. (Photo: Reuters)

The fate of Adani Group’s A$16.5-billion ($12.4-billion) Australian coal mine hinges on weekend elections in Queensland state, as voters weigh the promise of new against a potential environmental threat to the

The Labor government has vowed to reject A$900 million in federal funding for a new rail link, which is needed to carry coal to the coast for export. The Opposition Liberal National Party, vying to win office in Saturday’s ballot, says that threatens the viability of Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s project, and with it the economic future of the resource-rich state.

As the world grapples with the fossil fuel’s role in the future energy mix, the proposed Carmichael mine has become a defining issue in the election. Opinion polls indicate the result is too close to call.

“This is the biggest specific issue in the election and the way voters perceive the mine will swing a lot of votes,” said John Quiggin, an economics lecturer at the University of Queensland. State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s vow to block funding means Labor is “now seen in the anti-Adani camp,” he said.

Supporters say the mine will open up the Galilee Basin, a coal-rich region bigger than the UK, and create thousands of new in the struggling state. Queensland, hit hard by the end of a decade-long mining-investment boom, has the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate.

Opponents say Australia’s largest coal project would increase carbon pollution, exacerbating coral bleaching that’s already damaged large swathes of the reef.

Adani has repeatedly rejected concerns that the project or cargo vessels carrying coal exports to its Indian customers could damage the world’s largest living structure. “The mine is 400 km inland from the reef,” Ron Watson, a Brisbane-based spokesman for Adani Australia, said. “There has not been one incident in the Marine Park in 50 years. The only threat to the reef is those who throw around wild accusations.” 

Watson declined to comment specifically on the federal funding issue or the state elections and said Adani continues “to target first production in 2020.”

First Published: Thu, November 23 2017. 01:27 IST