OPINION: Shorten can’t be miners’ and greenies’ best friend
Summary: Rarely, if ever, has a major Australian political party had a leader whose main priorities were not strengthening the conditions for industry, jobs and exports to flourish.....
In the past few days, Bill Shorten has been exposed as such a leader. On Tuesday, millionaire businessman and former Australian Conservation Foundation president Geoff Cousins revealed the Opposition Leader promised “at least half a dozen times” he would revoke Adani’s licence for the $16.5 billion Carmichael mine in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin as soon as a Labor government was elected. Such a pledge, which Mr Shorten is not denying, is sharply at odds with Labor’s traditional working base and his former role as Australian Workers Union boss. Rank-and-file party and union members should be ashamed of him. In a region beset by high unemployment, the Adani project and others that would follow are a desperately needed beacon of hope.
However inconvenient for Labor, Mr Cousins’s revelation has blasted Mr Shorten off the fence, where he has been trying to maintain a duplicitous balancing act as the leader of the “party of miners” and the “party of the environment”. His real position was clarified yesterday when he updated his register of interests, revealing the ACF paid for his flights to the proposed mine site and to the Great Barrier Reef in January. The ACF said Mr Shorten had reached out to Mr Cousins “to witness the damage from climate change-fuelled coral bleaching and to discuss the Adani coal project”.
A week ago in central Queensland, Mr Shorten made much of the fact he had “spent his life” representing miners. In May last year he said the Adani project was “all well and good” if it stacked up because jobs would be created. But with the Batman
by-election in inner-city Melbourne drawing closer, and Labor under serious challenge from the Greens, Mr Shorten’s anti-Adani position has hardened. His purported concerns about the project’s viability, however, are at odds with India’s surging demand for coal, which will increase as another 300 million people move into cities in the next 15 years. In today’s paper, World Coal Association chief executive Benjamin Sporton says Adani’s opponents cannot reverse India’s need for thermal coal. Demand for Australian thermal coal is also forecast to remain steady in China and Japan, with new markets emerging in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Mr Shorten’s penchant for saying “whatever suits his purpose at the time”, as Malcolm Turnbull describes it, was front and centre in question time yesterday. His contradictory stances, telling central Queensland miners he was “pro-coal” while assuring Mr Cousins he would withdraw the Adani licence, underlines Mr Shorten’s lack of clear, principled policies on how to steer the nation so productivity, wages and wealth are maximised. Labor’s blocking of the Coalition’s corporate tax cuts for companies with $50 million-plus turnovers and its refusal to affirm cuts already legislated for firms with turnovers of between $2m and $50m are other examples of his irresponsibility. In government, Mr Shorten supported company tax cuts as a tried and tested means of creating jobs. And after serving in the Labor government that imposed Australia’s centralised Fair Work system, winding back decades of flexibility and reform, Mr Shorten has now demonstrated his allegiance to the militant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union by describing Labor’s own system as a “cancer” that has “metastasised”. Addressing locked-out coalminers at Oaky North in Queensland in October, he promised to change the laws “when we form a government”. An even more rigid, pro-union IR system is the antithesis of what the economy needs.
Taken as a whole, Mr Shorten’s grab bag of promises adds up to a hard green-left economic agenda that could only weaken competitiveness, the jobs market and exports. Revoking the Adani licence would send a disastrous message to international investors about Australia’s sovereign risk. If jobs growth is to be maintained and wages increase in a stronger labour market, the last thing businesses and workers need is an ongoing, uncompetitive corporate tax system and, if Labor’s left has its way, the reimposition of higher taxes for medium-sized businesses. Mr Shorten can salvage his credibility only by dropping his poor man’s Jeremy Corbyn act and refocusing on the core strengths of the Hawke-Keating era — revitalising industry and jobs.