Premier mixes messages on Adani
The Queensland cabinet decided in May to veto Adani’s application for a $1 billion federal loan for a railway for its Carmichael coalmine, raising new questions about why Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government continued to profess support for the proposal until her about-face last week.
Senior state government sources have confirmed to The Weekend Australian that ministers resolved to walk away from the Adani loan bid to the North Australia Infrastructure Facility on May 26, at a crisis meeting of the state cabinet that thrashed out a royalty agreement for the mine.
“The decision was made to have no involvement in the NAIF loan, which meant that it could not go ahead,’’ a source said.
“But after cabinet and the press conference, the decision just seemed to be wound back.’’
Ministers were perplexed when Treasurer Curtis Pitt continued to publicly talk up the Indian company’s case for the line of credit and wrote to federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan requesting the NAIF loan approval process be fast-tracked to support major projects in Queensland.
A joint media release by Ms Palaszczuk, Mr Pitt and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad on May 27 appeared to confirm that the government would not handle the NAIF loan. “Consistent with our election commitments, cabinet has determined that any NAIF funding needs to be between the federal government and Adani,” the statement said.
On May 29, Mr Pitt created more confusion when he said: “We will not stand in the way of those arrangements. In the case of the Carmichael mine, any funds will pass from the federal government to Adani. We will fulfil our obligations in line with the Master Facility Agreement agreed with the federal government.”
Under the NAIF process, Queensland would have administered any loan granted to Adani by the federal government financier. But the Premier pulled the pin on this last Friday, November 3, when she announced the veto because of a possible conflict of interest from her partner, Shaun Drabsch, having worked on the loan application for Adani through consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Last night a spokesman for Ms Palaszczuk insisted the NAIF loan had not been blocked by cabinet in May, but declined to comment further. “You’re wrong,” he said.
The issue is sensitive for Labor as Ms Palaszczuk has been accused of pandering to the Greens, who are going after the ALP in inner Brisbane seats including that of Ms Trad over its support for the Adani mine, while keeping faith with regional communities who want the jobs it would bring.
The mine has also stirred factional tensions, with left MPs and ministers aligned with Ms Trad deeply reluctant to embrace it.
The Premier has said the veto also reflected Labor’s 2015 election commitment that it would not spend taxpayers’ money building a railway link to the proposed mine.
Ms Trad cancelled an interview with The Weekend Australian at short notice yesterday on what is understood to be the advice of Labor’s campaign team, which includes former Adani lobbyist Cameron Milner.
Stepping up his attack on Ms Palaszczuk for refusing to release the terms of the royalty agreement with Adani, Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls said the Premier’s credibility was “in tatters”.
“She said there’d be no secret deals, and she’s done a secret deal on royalties,” he said in Toowoomba. “This is about the fourth or fifth time we’ve seen the Premier worm and squeal and try and dodge her way out of answering legitimate questions.”
Ms Palaszczuk refused to elaborate on her assertion on Thursday that the funding of a rail link to the mine was an issue for the federal government. “It is a matter for the federal government. They have an infrastructure fund themselves; if they decide to do that, they can — that’s a matter for Malcolm Turnbull.”