Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at India Gate in New Delhi, India on Tuesday 11 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesPrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has lauded the controversial Adani coal mine as a boon for Australia that will deliver tens of thousands of jobs and significant state and federal revenue for decades to come.
The glowing endorsement followed his meeting with the company’s principal, Gautam Adani, and company executives in the Indian capital on Monday evening. It is understood discussions ranged over the rate of progress towards the giant project, issues of native title, and public financing.
Mr Turnbull’s comments came as he wound up the official “state” visit stage of his three-day trip to India, in which he has held talks with counterpart Narendra Modi.
Among the issues discussed were the stalled free-trade talks, which Mr Turnbull said would now be brought back to prime ministerial level for a report to establish what hopes there were for a future agreement.
Also discussed was the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea continues provocative missile tests and the US sends the Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the region as a show of military might.
Mr Turnbull pointedly called on Beijing to use its influence with Pyongyang. “The reckless and dangerous conduct of the North Korean regime is threatening peace and stability, not just in the region, but of the whole world,” he said.
“We’ve continued to apply, as have other nations, sanctions against the North Koreans and we continue to call on China to exercise the undoubted influence it has on the North Korean regime to pull it back from further reckless conduct.”
While Mr Turnbull’s visit was low on major announcements, he declared it a great success.
Sources said Mr Turnbull had reassured billionaire businessman Mr Adani that legal hurdles associated with Native Title Act would be resolved and would not be allowed to frustrate the $21 billion investment. He said “the issue needs to be fixed and will be fixed”.
While the Turnbull government introduced legislation earlier this year to forestall legal moves under the Native Title Act, the amendments have become bogged down in the Senate, increasing fears the mine might not get the final go-ahead.
The company says it will eventually employ as many as 10,000 Australians in the Galilee Basin mine and associated businesses.
The government is seeking to neutralise the McGlade decision of the Federal Court, which recently ruled that all native title holders potentially affected by a project must be consulted and agree to an “Indigenous land use agreement” before the project could proceed. That has implications for 126 projects across Australia, including Adani’s Carmichael Mine proposal.
Mr Adani has told Indian backers that his company is eligible for a $1 billion low-interest loan from Australian taxpayers in order to part-fund a railway line to carry the product to port. However, Mr Turnbull told him the loan’s approval would depend on a fully independent assessment of its merits by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.
Mr Turnbull rejected any suggestion that he had given Adani assurances about the loan, insisting that the assessment by the infrastructure fund would be independent.
It is understood Adani representatives mentioned the infrastructure fund during the meeting, but made it clear they understood it was independent of the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government should loan the company the money.
Mr Joyce said the rail line could also help other Australian miners, opening up the Galilee Basin and turning it into a “cash cow”, as well as “turning on the power for other people in the world”.
The Labor opposition supports the mine, which also has the strong backing of the Queensland Labor government.
But opposition to it is widespread, with conservation groups and many voters concerned about the mine’s impact on global C02 levels, and the potential for direct and indirect damage to the Great Barrier Reef, already experiencing catastrophic coral bleaching.
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