5 February, 2018
Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (12:40): It's interesting to be rising today to speak on this motion, given the likely origins of this new statement of expectations and its likely trajectory. Here we are, just a day after the member for McPherson, in her role as the government's Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, confirmed that the federal government won't provide funds to help Adani build infrastructure for its proposed coalmine in Queensland's Galilee Basin. This comes on the heels of recent disturbing reports that pollution samples relating to the environmental impact of the mine may well have been doctored. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, Labor is growing increasingly sceptical over this project.
It's clear, at the very least, that the project should not be reliant on the Turnbull government handing a billion dollars worth of taxpayer money to a mining billionaire. So it's fitting, then, that today, a day after one line of funding was shut off, a government that's fought so hard for millionaires and multinationals should ask the House to give it a pat on the back for opening up an alternative source of taxpayer dollars for a project like Adani's. The Export Finance and Insurance Corporation usually provides funds to help Australian exporters expand, but with the stroke of a pen the minister has made it possible for Efic to fund the kinds of projects it was not intended to fund.
Let's look at the timing of this decision. On 29 August last year, Australia's trade minister, Steven Ciobo, met with Gautam Adani in India. A week or so later, on 7 September, Minister Ciobo changed the Efic investment mandate and its statement of expectations to allow investment in onshore resources projects. The next day, 8 September, Minister Ciobo and Deputy Prime Minister Joyce wrote to top Chinese officials to vouch for Indian giant Adani and its proposed megamine in central Queensland—that was because Adani had turned to Chinese state-owned banks to seek financing for its $16.5 billion project. Australian banks have said that they won't fund the Adani coalmine. They recognise that world coal demand is falling. They recognise, too, that the impact of Adani could well be, as the member for Shortland has pointed out, to cost mining jobs in the Hunter region. So, to assist, Minister Joyce and Minister Ciobo sent a letter to the chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, saying they welcomed, 'foreign lending to support the development of major projects in Australia'.
Now we skip forward six weeks, and we have Efic during an estimates hearing on 26 October denying it had any such contact with Adani. Five days later, Minister Ciobo confirms on Sky that he'd changed Efic's statement of expectations, allowing the body to provide federal money to onshore resource projects. By late December, when we were all ready for a quiet summer of books and beaches, questions on notice came back from the Senate and confirmed that Efic had in fact spoken with Adani and had informed the minister's office of that contact. This contradicts the evidence given by Efic at the estimates hearing.
So, that's what we know, but we don't know when Adani first contacted Efic or whether the Minister's office asked Efic to communicate with Adani. What it looks like is that last year, when the chances of dollars flowing from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility were growing slimmer and slimmer, the Turnbull government was working on a second option to fund that project.