The Adani development rort – a toxic time-bomb in more ways than one?

There is a much more important reason why Australians as well as Indians (and anyone else) should be concerned by the wilfully blind embrace of Adani and its various plans around the Carmichael coal mine by state and federal governments in the name of jobs, progress and big (false) dreams of great wealth and benefit… than the protection of oceans, water-aquifers and the environment generally in Queensland. If you saw the recent ABC Four Corners special on this (1), you would have no illusions that Adani have a solid track record of deceiving governments, failing to carry out their promises (and related development targets), and have little if any real interest in local communities AS WELL AS miserably failing to provide even basic environmental protection (2) – not just in India (3) but in other countries where they have spread their tentacles (4).
Australia is a country which has long had a world-class tradition in at least being ready or prepared to call out BS artists, the most clumsy rorts, and the most obvious scams. But the potential tragedy of Adani (that can be averted) is that this case perhaps signifies once and for all how cowardly, misinformed and self-interested are the politicians who have long conspired to socially engineer people to simply accept their awful decisions, endless rip-offs, and selling out of the public good in this country as an everyday fact of life that has to be tolerated. Its clear to anyone who looks closely at the matter that the Adani ‘dream’ for the Carmichael Mine will end in tears for just about all but Gautam Adani, his brother Vinod (who runs some of the dodgy off-shoots of the parent company) and their close associates – who will probably be long gone by the time the big mess is set up in haste and repented at leisure for decades (5).
So the Adani fightback taking place at the moment is about a line in the sand of the age-old battle between local interests and the top-down complicity of ruthless corporate opportunists and governments turning a blind eye (6). A good example of this on the Four Corners program was the instant where the interviewers confronted Qld premier Anna Palaszczuk after a meeting to ask her if she was aware of any of the stories about Adani’s miserable track record and related scandals now coming to light (e.g. how as the Adani file reports, “Adani has a documented history of corruption, bribery, and human rights abuses across the world. It’s currently facing further criminal investigations for alleged involvement in multi-billion dollar fraud in India”). Palaszcuk simply ignored all this and in reply said that this is ‘all about jobs’ (i.e. all about trying not to lose the next election). In fact, a recent report has it that the Adanai lobbyist Cameron Milner has been recruited by Qld Labor to run their re-election campaign (7) any day now. Conversely, for the Federal government Adani represents a fast-tracking of their Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility vision (a good idea in principle, but will perhaps sink like a stone if it remains tethered to Adani or similar)(3).
Another standout moment of the Four Corners report was when they interviewed an Indian ex-minister of environment who has much direct knowledge of the Adani scandals in India . He was simply astounded that Australia had failed to do due diligence about Adani and was not only was “handing them the keys” to various assets but was also in the process of the federal government giving them a 1 billion dollar tax-payer funded loan (8). He simply said words to the effect “how could you Australians be so stupid?”. This was after the report had detailed many Indian witnesses and examples of their miserable, wholly unreliable, and tainted records. For instance, it focused on how in 2011 the Ombudsman of Karnataka state had discovered systematic bribery of police, officials and politicians by Adani in relation to both the illegal purchase and exports of iron ore over many years. Conversely, the billion dollar fraud and illegal profiteering relates to the systematic rorting also of inflated invoices linked to an off-shore holding company managed by Vinod. Then there are the horror stories of damage carelessly inflicted on the people and their local habitats – for instance, the story of how in 2011 an unseaworthy Adana coal ship sank near Mumbai with Adani not making any real effort to clean this up as “the spill destroyed mangroves, polluted beaches, and caused serious damage to the local marine environment and Mumbai’s tourism industry” (2).
In fact, Adani is fast becoming a global pin-up of corporate rorts in the name of progress and profits at the expense of the local economy, environment and society everywhere. The deception of a complex corporate structure in India has been also transferred to Australia where of a reported 26 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia, 13 are based in the Caymen British Virgin Islands and most linked directly to Vinod Adani ( 9). This is all for tax avoidance as well as for for offshore profiteering purposes. So, we already have a pretty clear picture of how Adani will not just follow in the footsteps of all the other multinational corporations which rip-off Australia by failing to pay due tax, but try to outdo them with possibly far less scruples than Google, Chevron, Uber and others. No wonder Adani thinks it will be able to bull-doze their plans through any Qld government ‘concession on royalties’ (10) in similar fashion to how our politicians a few years ago allowed gas companies to engineer one of the great energy rip-offs ever seen anywhere in the world ( 11). And in a further sign of things to come, instead of a multi-million dollar fine for Adani’s recent environmental breach at Abbot Point coal terminal (polluting in the direction of the Great Barrier Reef), they received a $12,000 fine (not even a slap on the wrist!!!) (12)And who can believe the Adani commitments to ensure the sustainability of local aquifers also for local farmers (and their truthfulness in monitoring and reporting) on the  60 year lease they have been granted to extract billions of litres of water out of the Great Artesian Basin for free (12b).
So when you see all the protests last week around Australia (e.g. 13), it was not just about the possible and/or even likely devastation of the Great Artesian Basin and Great Barrier Reef as well as the biggest coal mine in the world unleashing massive amounts of carbon in the atmosphere (14). Its more significant in terms of how Australian bureaucrats and politicians have failed to do due diligence in letting a really dodgy operator coming and set up massive operations of great consequence which will also be funded by the Australian tax-payer – with much of this money likely to be siphoned into the off-shore based companies to both avoid tax and simply profiteer at our expense. I personally believe that in a few years time we will look back (one way or another) and see that Adani is now a line in the sand ‘battleground’ which will either be the final nail in the coffin of our national integrity (and trust in politicians and governance in this country) or a renewed inspiration for a popular uprising of sorts. Enough people taking up this issue can force our governments to return from the brink of simply giving up on any standards of integrity – and also from simply giving not just corporate opportunists an open license for more and bigger systemic scams but also the forces of corruption.
DISCLAIMER: In recent days some politicians from North Queensland (where I happen to hail from) have come out and said that anyone who criticises Adani must be ‘greenies’ who are not interested in jobs – trying to make this controversy out to be a simple choice between environment and industry. Such people have a short memory of the recent and ongoing “Clive Palmer and Queensland Nickel ” debacle (15) where a dodgy operator destroyed the work opportunities of many from Townsville and other nearby areas.  (I should know since my own son was one of those caught up in this). We have been consistently on record that (a) sustainable development not only can but should balance ‘jobs’ and community plus environmental sustainability and (b) how our governments have long been sending messages to often dodgy overseas operators to “ “COME HERE AND LET US PAY YOU TO RIP US OFF… and even destroy perfectly good industries or communities if you like as well”. There are many reasons why the Adani plan green light will be very expensive mistake for this country (not the lucrative opportunity its promoted as). As well as an inherent lack of sustainability from the start there is also a good chance that side-effects of the Adani strategy if allowed to proceed (such as the water issue) will decimate both the pastoral and tourist industries in North Queensland and various communities dependent on these. As seen with Clive Palmer all those who got work in the short term are far worse off in the long run when they make commitments under the aegis of a dodgy and opportunistic operator – especially one who has a track record of tax avoidance, manipulating their own records, and either corrupting or intimidating anyone who challenges them.
– CKR 9/10/2017

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