Skink and snake save the day; but Abbott government all set to change the law.


It is the title fight of the century. Skink and Snake, two obscure creatures are thrust suddenly under a national spotlight at Queensland’s Galilee Basin, last week, when the little Aussie battlers square off against a pair of slick out of towners who have cut up ugly and are about to destroy the joint. What’s this? The referee is stopping the bout? The crowd goes wild; it is on for young and old.

Backers and seconds pitch into the fray. Punches are thrown. In the ensuing melee which rages up and down the country it is impossible to predict the final result. Most punters, however, back the coal to stay in the hole.   One of the many men that are Tony Abbott on the political scene bucks the trend and wagers coal will clean up. Everyone in the world wants our coal. Because our coal is like no other coal; such clean, green coal, he winks.

Only Blinky Bill Shorten, who seems to have coal dust in his eyes, takes an each-way bet. Maybe he’s saving himself for his next appearance before the Royal Commission into Bill Shorten where he will once again be found guilty of being a unionist.

Counsel assisting the commission Mr Jeremy Stoljar QC has new documents; new evidence he says quietly and slowly, softening Shorten up, softening us all up, playing on the dramatic irony that no evidence is needed for the commission to do its dirty work. Only the coalition puts on such quality show trials. But Adani is a class act also. Money to burn. And all other peoples’.

After four years of digging in, Adani had looked unbackable. The miner bought the port; it owns Abbot Point in Bowen, a port it puffs which has been going for thirty years. Transport is in the bag. It has MOUs from other miners pledging funds. Even Gina and Clive have said they will chip in to pay for Adani’s railway. But there has been the odd setback along the way.

Adani failed comprehensively to make its financial case in response to a Queensland Land Court challenge earlier this year.  It was hammered. While it may be a year before judgement is found, it does have the PM and his sock puppet Environment Minister Hunt in its pocket. Surely they’ll come up with something. But no-one expected a skink and snake to do them down.

In a hiding to nothing, dinkum-Aussie-backs-to-the-wall stoush, the quiet yakka skink and his flash looking bushie mate, the ornamental snake outfox not only the wily Adani giants but also one entire Queensland government and a Federal government. Snake and skink backers, the MacKay Conservation Group backers, take a bow.

Not that Abbott’s team has its eye on the ball. Last week, MPs abandoned any pretence at governing in favour of bagging Labor over travel and quietly paying back their own misspent entitlements. It was not until late in the week that a story was got up about a greenie, socialist conspiracy abusing the courts to wilfully sabotage progress. Most Australians saw it differently.

Halting the Carmichael mine is a victory for grass roots democracy, a win for the little people everywhere, according to social media, but the Adani mob and their political backers beg to differ.

Sailing close to contempt for the judiciary, Tony Abbott, the number one Adani fan club ticket-holder confects outrage: ‘the courts are being used to sabotage projects.’  He may see himself as Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard’s ideological love child but he ought to have a paternity test done.

Abbott is, or his latest avatar is, sounding more and more like a son of Joh Bjelke Peterson’s with his secrecy, his craven crony capitalism, his over legislation and his bashing of the bench. Not to mention the sensational rorting of his political intimates. President of the NSW Bar Association, Jane Needham SC, spots a link with Joh in Abbot’s weak grasp of the separation of powers.

“The comments demonstrate a lack of understanding of the independent role of the courts in our democracy,” …”the courts are not the servant of the Executive.”

Anyone else would realise he’s way out of line. Behind all Abbott’s blather, however, he is all for changing the rules, over legislating again, to make it impossible to challenge mining on environmental grounds. There’s more than a touch of megalomania.

Shrewdly sidelining Christopher Pyne, whom even Howard wisely refused to give a portfolio, Abbott has dipped into Bronnie’s pin money and outsourced Pyne’s day job, engaging Robert Griew, a $155,000 professional negotiator.

It is an interesting form of perk for Pyne. Doubtless many workers would be happy for the boss to pay someone else to do their job. It begs the question, however, what are we paying Pyne for?

Griew is making inroads with the likes of Ricky Muir, wind energy saboteur David Leyonhjelm and other nut cases of the senate cross bench.  Leyonhjelm has been heard in interview boasting that wind farms are done for thanks to the combined power of the cross bench. The mouse has roared. Expect a change of heart on the cost of tertiary education. The environment could be next.

Minerals Council of Australia blowhards accuse opponents of the Carmichael Mine of being ‘politically motivated.’  A Royal Commission into environmentalists won’t, however, be needed this time thanks.  With a professional negotiator on the job, the government may sugar coat and sweet-talk an ‘obstructionist’ senate into agreeing with its proposed Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2013 Amendment. With deadpan irony, The Department of the Environment promises the Senate that the new law will have only a ‘minor impacts.’

Greg Hunt would be given complete legal immunity from all future legal challenges to his mining approvals. The law, moreover, would be retrospective even if Hunt’s approval was not compliant with the EPBC law. The Environment Minister would be above the law, a situation which he sees as offering certainty to mining companies which are faced with environmental challenges. Sure will.

Despite his own rule changing, the PM can still keep a straight face as he tells others to play by the rules in his pose as the arbiter of a fair go. He knows what to say. Playing by the rules is virtuous.

“If a vital national project can be endlessly delayed, if the courts can be turned into a means of sabotaging projects which are striving to meet the highest environmental standards, then we have a real problem as a nation,” he said. “We can’t become a nation of naysayers; we have to remain a nation that gives people a fair go if they play by the rules.”

Hypocrisy to one side, every premise in the PM’s case is false. Far from being ‘a vital national project,’ for example, the mine is shunned by financial backers and mothballed by Adani because on current coal prices in an increasingly green market for energy it is a dud. With other markets contracting it will never make money. India is pledged to become self-sufficient in coal in a few years. China, also, will import less. Both, unlike Australia are investing heavily in renewable energy. How could anyone say Adani is playing by the rules?

Adani has grossly exaggerated the benefits of the Carmichael mine even according to its own experts.  It promises 10,000 jobs and 22 billion in tax but the facts attest otherwise. Jerome Fahrer, Adani’s economics consultant concedes only 1494 jobs will be created, and there is no guarantee that 457 visas will not be used to help Adani import workers.

The outlook for coal is bleak, even for the superior Galilee Basin, artisanal, hand-crafted, organic thermal coal which Abbott spruiks constantly; assuring us is better than any available elsewhere in the world. Adani needs a price of $80 to 100 US dollars a tonne to be profitable. Currently the price is around $60 per tonne in what is a deflating bubble. It may well be that coal reverts to its average of around $30 to $40. A mine that runs at a loss will not pay taxes.  Should it make a profit there is every reason to expect Adani to follow its current practice and ‘offshore’ its profits.

Yet our government in Canberra has no stomach for facts. Blind faith and obedience to vested interests and an IPA agenda eclipse any empirical research. The federal government is a sheltered workshop for Howard-era throwbacks, rejects and other, sundry, flat-earthers who seek to take Australia back to a glorious past when all you needed to succeed was a long handled shovel and a miner’s licence. Lang Hancock, recently canonised in a July Australian story hagiography is their patron saint. Strangely it chose to steer around his attitude towards Aboriginal Australians and their land; their mother.

Less circumspect in her own cause is Dame in waiting Gina Rinehart, a partner in another licence to mine in the Galilee Basin. A mate of Tony Abbott, Gina tells the PM what she would like done with mining and minerals policy. Someone has to. With no real energy or environment policy and a reverse Midas-touch in business and finance, the government is desperate to have any mine go ahead, especially Carmichael which carries bragging rights of being the biggest coal mine in the known universe. Abbott can’t wait to blow his bags.

Tony Abbott, named for St Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, clings precariously to his leadership and all week has been manically seeking to deflect damage by rashly committing to root and branch reform of entitlements. It will come back to bite him in the bum.

In 2012, his day trip to a Country Music Festival in Tamworth saw him claiming $9347 in work expenses despite not even staying in the city overnight. From 2010 to 2014, as Opposition Leader, Abbott claimed a total of six million dollars, outspending the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Seriously wounded by his loyal support of Bronwyn Bishop, Abbott, the six million dollar man, is bad-mouthing anyone who dares raise an eyebrow over his equally mad plan to back Adani, one of the most unattractive partners you could choose with its record of bonded labour, child labour, illegal work practices, environmental vandalism and financial shenanigans.

Three Adani-owned companies are alleged by Indian government authorities to have siphoned a billion dollars from Indian shareholders and transferred them into a Mauritius Island account, an allegation the company dismisses as ‘politically motivated.’

Tony Abbott is spruiking the benefits of Adani prosperity but none of the wealth appears to trickle down. One 12-year-old boy from the state of Bihar, is paid 150 rupees a day, about $2.60, to carry drinking water to the workers. He said he worked 12 hours a day, and had only Sundays off. But he does get to work on Shantigram a luxury apartment Adani is building on the outskirts of Gujurat. Bet he can’t wait to pay for Adani coal-fired electricity Abbott says will lift him out of poverty.

According to the Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action in Ahmedabad, Adani gets around paying fair wages by outsourcing labour to many contractors. It is not unknown here.

“Almost one fourth workers are getting less than 230 rupees per day [$4], the minimum wage for unskilled construction workers in Gujarat,” the report said. “Another 29 per cent of workers are getting between 231 and 300 rupees per day [$5.30] … the lowest wage rate reported was 130 rupees per day [$2.30].”

Notorious in India for their exploitative work practices and disdain for local ecology and environment, Adani is the darling of the deluded right wing rump which calls the shots in the coal-fired Abbott government, a government with a cargo cult attitude to prosperity. We will all be rich when multinational companies can freely dig up our minerals, destroy the environment, and rip off our taxation system by transferring their profits offshore.  Coal is good for civilisation.

Australians with other ideas are stooges of conspiracies, saboteurs, wreckers, as prime paranoiac and craven panic merchant, Abbott rants:

“Let’s be under no illusions the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

‘Not my stuff up,’ work experience boy Greg Hunt huffs from the brig, ‘and Captain Abbott makes all the decisions. And it is really only a tiny, weenie, hitch.

Adani will be back in the saddle as soon as Hunt can change the rules and obtain 16 billion dollars of new financial backing.  The pokies industry takes 15 billion a year. It owes them a favour.

Skink and snake had been left out of environmental minister Greg Hunt’s plan, causing the Federal Court to decree progress on the Carmichael dam must cease forthwith, a verdict which also cut off its money supply. Hunt had failed his obligation to properly consider all endangered species.

A mere technical detail, said Minister Hunt, downplaying the project’s mortal wounds, in a trademark Monty Python Black Knight dismissal which he also applied to news the Commonwealth Bank would no longer sponsor Adani Mining, leaving the firm Buckley’s chance of stumping up the 16 billion required to fund not only the mine but the rail and everything else to make it all work, or to use another government- buggered buzz word, its ‘infrastructure.’

Adani has responded by sacking or redeploying most of its 50 Brisbane staff. Of course, the firm is big enough, wealthy enough to redeploy these employees any time they need. At present, however, regardless of skink and snake’s last stand, the Carmichael Mine will not go ahead until it can convince sceptical financiers that it can make a profit. Nor will any other mine in the area get the green light.

All depends on Adani. And unless the Indian miner can make a convincing financial case, all other blandishments and exhortations from Prime Ministers and governments state and federal will be to no avail. And if Blinky Bill Shorten could get off the fence; shake the coal dust out of his eyes. Even Bill would agree, it is not about the environment or the ecology, in the end it is whether the other mob can make a quid out of us.

But that won’t stop the finger-pointing, the name-calling and the witch-hunting. It’s one of the laws of political survival: ‘When something goes wrong find someone to blame.’ Makes a wonderful diversion, too. Expect a lot of it in the next few weeks.