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Mine games: the hidden players: AGAINST A BACKDROP OF RISING GLOBAL TEMPERATURE RECORDS, HOW IS THE POLLUTING ADANI COAL MINE STILL A VIABLE OPTION? THERE'S A WEB OF POLITICAL INFLUENCE SPUN BY THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY THAT GOES TO THE HEART OF IT, SABOTAGING OUR DEMOCRACY.

WHEN I SPEAK with the ACF community about Adani's proposed Carmichael coal mine, one question is consistently raised: "How can this mine still be under consideration?".

It's a valid question, because in a year that has kicked off with record heatwaves, bushfires, floods and drought, there is no credible justification for digging Australia's largest ever coal mine.

Unless the international community rapidly ends its addiction to digging up and burning coal, our coral reefs will perish and we will need to prepare for even more intense and frequent extreme weather. And while climate change makes rainfall less reliable, Adani's coal mine will drain billions of litres of water each year from Queensland's precious aquifers, threatening irreplaceable ecological and cultural sites.

Without labouring the point, it's obvious that there is no merit in digging Adani's climate wrecking mine. It doesn't stackup environmentally or financially. And because of this, polls consistently show nearly two-thirds of Australians are opposed to it.

So, how can a mine that is a self-evident disaster for our climate, environment, water, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and workers still be going ahead? The answer is politics--and politicians, while rarely motivated by facts, are often motivated by power.

Therein lies both the problem and the opportunity.

The problem

The Adani Group is a vast multinational corporate empire, with investments in electricity, mining, agriculture, real estate, financial services and weapons manufacturing. The Adani family has accumulated an enormous stockpile of money from these investments. The Adani Group's chairman and founder, Gautam Adani, is estimated to have a net worth of more than AU$14 billion.

To date, Adani has sunk billions of dollars into its operations in Australia. If the Carmichael mine is stopped, that money goes down the drain--so the company won't walk away without a fight. And it's fighting tooth and nail, by splashing more cash on advertising, lobbying and direct donations to our major political parties. All of this is designed to facilitate more favourable outcomes and ensure the mine's construction can go ahead.

Donations

According to the Electoral Commission of Queensland, since the start of 2018, Adani donated $14,900 to the Queensland LNP, while the Minerals Council of Australia, of which Adani is a member, donated a combined $30,850 to the federal Liberal and National parties. Comparatively, the Labor Party returned two donations totalling $2,200 in early 2018.

Defenders of these arrangements argue that there is nothing sinister about donations and that they are a lawful way for companies to participate in democracy. In a technical sense, they're right. It's rare to find examples of where a donation has led directly to a particular policy outcome. That's because such activity is legally known as corruption.

Who knows what might be uncovered if Australia had a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). However, if the evidence of the NSW ICAC is any guide, they might not need to look far. Inquiries into the conduct of disgraced former Labor politicians Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald uncovered numerous irregularities in the process of issuing coal exploration licences.

But corruption aside (and it must be stressed that no allegations have been levelled against any Australian politicians connected to Adani's mine), why would Adani, the Minerals Council of Australia and other big companies bother to gift their riches to our political parties? It's certainly not just a philanthropic gesture of support for Australian democracy. No--companies make these donations because it purchases influence and access for their lobbyists.

Lobbying

Like most big companies, Adani hires professional lobbyists to advocate on its behalf to state and federal politicians. These lobbyists are politically connected and experienced in negotiating favourable outcomes for their clients. In many instances, the lobbying firms have networks that straddle both major parties, ensuring that no matter who wins government, their clients have access.

Take Adani's lobbying firm GovStrat as an example. GovStrat is staffed by Damian Power (former state treasurer of Queensland Labor), Ken Macpherson (former Rio Tinto executive and ex-chief of staff for Bill Shorten), Robert Borbidge AO (former Queensland LNP Premier) and Jeff Popp (chief of staff to the Deputy Premier during Campbell Newman's Queensland LNP government).

Interestingly, Macpherson isn't the first lobbyist for Adani to hold a close relationship to the opposition leader. Cameron Milner, who also lobbied for Adani, served as Shorten's chief of staff between 2015-16 and is a former state secretary of Queensland Labor. These connections give Adani unparalleled access to senior figures in the ALP and LNP, state and federal.

A systemic issue

Adani's political strategy is not unique. In the last decade the mining industry has spent tens of millions of dollars on political campaigning. These activities infamously preceded Prime Minister Gillard's swift backdown on the Rudd government's proposed mining 'super-profits' tax and directly supported the successful campaign against the carbon price and election of Tony Abbott.

Beyond the fossil fuel industry, Australia's big banks are also big believers in political donations. For example, in 2016-17 ANZ donated $150,000 to the ALP and Coalition, when the Turnbull government was continuing to hold out against calls for a banking Royal Commission.

A parade of former federal politicians and staffers have taken up lucrative posts as advocates for big companies. Former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh is CEO of the Australian Banking Association. Former Labor resources minister Martin Ferguson chairs the industry association for big oil and gas, APPEA. And former Senators Nick Minchin (Liberal) and Stephen Conroy (Labor) now lead the Australian gambling industry's peak advocacy organisation.

If that's not enough to take your breath away, some MPs even eschew the dignity of leaving politics before advocating for the private sector. Liberal MP Bruce Billson, the former minister for small business, accepted a paid position with the Franchise Council of Australia (where he now serves as executive chairman), several months before his retirement from parliament. Disgracefully, he failed to declare this at the time, and later argued that there was 'no conflict of interest' between the two roles.

It's clear from these examples that money talks. Big companies like Adani buy power over our politicians through direct donations and hiring professional lobbyists.

If democracy means the broad sharing of power by a community, where power resides with the people, then the concentration of power with any one group undermines that aim. To take this argument further, if the concentration of wealth allows companies to wield a disproportionate influence over decision-making, then it is obvious that the concentration of wealth is itself incompatible with democracy.

The modus operandi of our economic system is profit and this encourages the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth. But understanding that our capitalist political-economic system is incompatible with democracy, while vital, does little to help us strategise how to overcome the power of big companies. But that's okay, because the strategy is obvious and the groundwork laid by the activists whose shoulders we stand on.

The opportunity

While a big company like Adani might have money on its side, we have people. And throughout history, people have brought about monumental changes to economic and political systems, despite opposition from the wealthy elite. They have marched, chanted, had difficult conversations and given their time and solidarity to support others. People power ended slavery and the Vietnam war. It enfranchised women, gave us the eight-hour working day and saved the Franklin. And so too will people power stop Adani's coal mine.

In her stirring book, 'Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities', activist writer Rebecca Solnit describes our current moment in history as one where "everything's coming together when everything's falling apart". She's right--while we face an existential threat to life on our planet from climate change, and democracies are creaking under the strain of decades of neoliberalism, we are witnessing the blossoming of radical new movements that aim to bridge racial and class divides. Movements that are committed to building a new society that works for planet and people, not big companies and the fossil fuel industry.

The Stop Adani campaign is deeply entwined with this broader environmental and social justice struggle. We are lucky to live in a time when our actions matter. Where we have an immediate and tangible opportunity to shape our collective future. And while the future is unknown, it is only if we stand up, speak out and act that we will change it.

By ACF Senior Stop Adani Campaigner, Christian Slattery
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Author:Slattery, Christian
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:1404
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