Interview with ABC Radio National Breakfast program
23 March 2017
Subject: Adani Carmichael Mine; reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act
FRAN KELLY: Well Matt Canavan is the Minister for Resources, and he joins us in our Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
MINISTER CANAVAN: Morning Fran. How are you?
FRAN KELLY: I'm well, thank you. The Adani Carmichael mine, it's already been beset with problems. It's struggled to raise investment. It's been hit with a number of court challenges and other delays. How damaging do you think this environmental campaign will be against the project? Bob Brown is saying it's going to be the biggest campaign since the Stop the Franklin.
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well Fran, I'm confident that people power will prevail. The people of Queensland and particularly North Queensland are huge supporters of this project. You had the mayor of Rockhampton on your show the other morning. She has done incredible work to build support for the project and also to campaign herself for Adani to have their fly in fly out base in Rocky. She's done great work, and she's reflecting the opinion of her constituents. There were eight mayors who went to India this week or this past fortnight to speak to Adani and remind them how much the project is supported in North Queensland. They represent more than 600,000 people in North Queensland. So I think the voices of those 600,000 people will prevail. It is very well supported. We need jobs in North Queensland. We need big projects in our nation, and so much of our wealth, as a country, is generated by the investments that have been made in our mining sector over many years, including in the Bowen Basin in Queensland. This new investment is opening up the first new coal basin for 40 years, the Galilee Basin. So coal is still our second biggest export. So much of our wealth relies on it, and it's got a very, very bright future.
FRAN KELLY: Let's talk about jobs. The biggest argument – and we heard from the mayor earlier in the week in favor of this mine – is the jobs it will create in northern Queensland, obviously very significant for locals. Once operational, it's estimated the mine will provide up to 4,000 full time jobs, though Bob Brown questioned that and said it was under 1,500. But then again, you know, the other concern from others is that it could threaten jobs, could lose jobs, cause jobs to be lost on the Great Barrier Reef if the reef is damaged due to this program. Bob Brown’s there, talking about 70,000 people employed in and around the reef. What's your response to that?
MINISTER CANAVAN: I reject those arguments, Fran, as does the Supreme Court of Queensland. This is an argument conservation groups have put to the court, that the coal mine would cause global warming and damage the Great Barrier Reef. But the court rightly pointed out that if we don't supply India with coal from Queensland, they will get that coal elsewhere, which they are doing right now. They import a lot of coal from Indonesia and South Africa. Generally speaking, that coal is of lower quality than what we have in Queensland and it’s certainly, the coal that India uses and they're a large coal producer in their own right, is much much lower quality than the coal in Queensland.
FRAN KELLY: That's not the only concern to the reef though is it?
MINISTER CANAVAN: It means lower carbon emissions from the world and that's a good thing. It's a good environmental outcome. The other point I make, Fran, is that tourist operators in the Great Barrier Reef need people to come and visit them, to provide those 70,000 jobs you mentioned. And the more people we have living in Queensland, the more people are going to come and holiday in North Queensland. It's just a fact that you're going to often holiday close to where you live, even if it's just for a weekend. So this is good news for all businesses in Queensland, not just those involved in the mining sector.
FRAN KELLY: So you don't believe those who say that the amount of traffic the export of coal and the impact on the industry itself on the reef is a concern?
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well, this project has gone through both approval at Federal and State levels. It's got more than 300 conditions placed on it. We already export hundreds of millions of tons of coal through our coastal waters every year. This project is a large project but it's smaller than the amounts we send through the Great Barrier Reef at the moment. There are safe handling practices to do that. I think the only incident in the Great Barrier Reef recently that's involved a ship was the Sea Shepherd, which spilt oil in the Great Barrier Reef with some mechanical failures, and it was fined I believe in court because of it. So the coal industry has a very good, strong record in protecting the environment and the Great Barrier Reef, and I'm sure that will continue.
FRAN KELLY: So Minister, this is a large project. In fact, what did you say, the first new coal basin in a very long time.
MINISTER CANAVAN: More than forty years, yep.
FRAN KELLY: A report by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club this week showed that the amount of coal power being built around the world fell by 62 per cent. That's nearly two thirds. Demand for coal has fallen due to policy shifts in China and India. Is that going to make it more difficult for Adani to attract financing to Carmichael? And does it also bring into question why we would be developing a new coal basin, given the controversy around it?
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well I mean obviously Adani will make their own commercial decision whether to proceed. I'm relatively confident they will proceed with the project.
FRAN KELLY: Is that what they told you when you were in India recently?
MINISTER CANAVAN: Everything I've heard is that they're very confident about it. They haven't made a final investment decision though, so I'm not in counting-your-chickens mode just yet. I think the facts that are put around about coal are sometimes very selective, and not particularly well informed. We've had this century a 60 per cent increase in the use of coal in the world. That's in 16 years. A 60 per cent increase. It's the most rapid increase in the use of coal in recorded history. It remains 40 per cent of the world's electricity supply and has done consistently for 40 years.
FRAN KELLY: But this latest report shows the amount of coal fired being built is falling.
MINISTER CANAVAN: So if you look at the last year or two, there has been a slowdown in the use of coal as there has been for most energy sources, because China has slowed down economically. That's coming off a massively large base. Now India has plans to build the equivalent of 30 Hazelwood power stations in the next five years. Adani are building seven of them. So they are only part of the story, part of the Indian story. They have plans to build almost the same again in five years post this five years, although those plans of course are not set in stone yet. India is going to have, hopefully if they continue, and continue to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world, will have a huge demand for electricity and energy. They've got a huge solar program, but they're going to need coal as well.
FRAN KELLY: It's 13 past eight. Our guest is the Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Just a couple of other questions, staying with Adani for a moment. The Northern Australia fund. Adani has applied to that fund, that infrastructure facility. It wants a one billion dollar loan to help build the railway line from the mine to the Abbot Point Coal Terminal. Now, it's an independent board. But you are the responsible Minister and you'll have to approve any recommendation that comes across your desk. If this comes across your desk from the fund, would you look at that favorably?
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well I'll look at it, Fran. I won't give an indication of which way I'd go because I don't know which way I'd go, because I haven't seen any proposal at this stage.
FRAN KELLY: Did they raise it with you when you were there?
MINISTER CANAVAN: I've spoken to Adani about their proposal but I have said to them that they’ll need to speak to Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. We've set up the facility to build economic infrastructure in Northern Australia, to build infrastructure that's going to have a wider economic benefit across our region. I'm obviously hopeful that if the Galilee Basin goes ahead, it won't just be about Adani. There's a lot of focus on Adani, but it's also about attracting new mines in the area as well. If there is a rail line built, that will allow new mines to move in, thousands of more jobs to be created, and for our country to provide even more of the world's energy supplies and make lots of money and create jobs from doing so.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, just finally, your leader Barnaby Joyce is clearly frustrated with this argument that's been going on, and the proposal to make changes to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. He sees it as an ongoing distraction. He's quoted in the Fairfax papers today saying it's catering to the fringe extremities of the Liberal Party. He said this is an issue, but I'll be frank, it lives on the extremities of the bell curve. Do you agree with him? Do you think that the government should not have raised this now?
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well I don't spend a lot of time myself focused on the Racial Discrimination Act or 18C. I suppose it's like the 80/20 rule Fran. I spend most of my time thinking about building dams in Northern Australia, building new mines in Northern Australia, new coal-fired power stations if we now have that need. That's what I want to do for our country, to build our country and create lower prices and more opportunities for all Australians.
FRAN KELLY: Nevertheless, you are a member of the Government. Do you regret the fact that the Government’s raised this right now?
MINISTER CANAVAN: I do think we can walk and chew gum at the same time, Fran. And while this is not an issue that exercises my mind, and Barnaby is right in that it doesn't get raised with you all that often, I do think we need to make changes to ensure that what happened to the students at QUT does not occur again. You shouldn't be hauled through the courts for innocuous comments on Facebook. People should be allowed to have a joke in this country. It's part of our Australian culture and way of doing things, I think, without being hauled before the courts. In fact that view now is the common view across the Parliament, including from Labor Senators on that committee, that there needs to be change. We can disagree whether that requires wording changed in the law,
FRAN KELLY: Well that's the big point, the change to 18C was not the recommendation.
MINISTER CANAVAN: Well that was not the major recommendation. There were options presented by other senators. But everybody excepts now that there should be change. So if it is a distraction Fran, it's distracting everybody, because everybody in this Parliament accepts that we should change the way we handle racial discrimination complaints.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
MINISTER CANAVAN: Thanks Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Matt Canavan is the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. It's 16 past eight on Breakfast.