India & Australia Vote With A Coal Clash Possible After The Twin Elections Apr 24, 2019

Supporters carry signs as part of the "Stop Adani Convoy" event on April 18, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia. Over 700 vehicles have reportedly registered to participate in a convoy of vehicles traveling from Tasmania to Canberra via New South Wales and Queensland to bring to light the issue of the Adani coal mine and climate change. Rallies are scheduled along the route with culminating with an event in Canberra on May 5. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)a

Supporters carry signs as part of the "Stop Adani Convoy" event on April 18, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia. Over 700 vehicles have reportedly registered to participate in a convoy of vehicles traveling from Tasmania to Canberra via New South Wales and Queensland to bring to light the issue of the Adani coal mine and climate change. Rallies are scheduled along the route with culminating with an event in Canberra on May 5. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

India and Australia could both have new governments by the end of next month but they will almost certainly continue to share a common problem; how to manage the proposed $10 billion Carmichael coal mining project of India's Adani Group in the Australian State of Queensland.

Elections in both countries are underway with campaigning in Australia ahead of a May 18 poll. The seven-stage Indian election ends a day after Australia votes, with counting scheduled for May 23.

The Carmichael mine, while not a campaign issue in India is certainly an issue in Australia where it is seen as a litmus test of the country's environmental policies and commitment to a low-carbon, if not a coal-free, future.

The proposed mining project is also seen as a test of Australia's willingness to embrace Indian investment and while that should not be a political hot potato it has become just that with India's High Commissioner (Ambassador) to Australia weighing into a debate with a request for fair treatment of Adani.

 

 

 

Australian coal being loaded for export. (Ian Waldie/Bloomberg)

Australian coal being loaded for export. (Ian Waldie/Bloomberg)

 BLOOMBERG NEWS

India's High Commissioner Intervenes

Ajay Gondane said in interview with Australia's national business newspaper, the Australian Financial Review (AFR), that the mine should be approved as soon as possible to ensure the strength of the ongoing trade relationship between the two countries.

While not a threat the fact that a senior Indian diplomat has voiced a strong opinion on an Australian domestic political issue is a sign of frustration in India that the Adani project appears to have been blocked by environmentalists and slow-moving government agencies.

Multiple layers of the approval process has seen the Carmichael project forced to win local, State and national government support. It has cleared most hurdles, winning Australian Government backing on April 9, just before the date for the national election was revealed.

The final approval now rests with the Queensland State Government which is yet to approve a management plan for a colony of endangered birds, the black-throated finch.

A black-throated finch found near Adani Group's proposed Carmichael coal mine in Australia. (Getty)

A black-throated finch found near Adani Group's proposed Carmichael coal mine in Australia. (Getty)

 GETTY

While the issue with the birds could be genuine there is also concern that it's a convenient, but hard-to-prove problem which could become a long-term mine development block.

Australia's attitude towards coal, the country's second most valuable export after iron ore, has hardened in recent years with one political party, the Greens, campaigning for the abolition of all coal mining by the year 2030.

India, on the other hand, is a major consumer of coal and is keen to obtain supplies for electricity generation from Adani's proposed Carmichael mine.

Treat Carmichael Like Any Other Mine Proposal

Dr Gondane told the AFR that the Carmichael mine should be treated like any other new mine proposal.

"It is surprising to me that one particular mine is up in the media or public discourse because mines are being developed all over," he said.

"We would prefer that this particular project is offered bipartisan support because our relationship with the Australian Government is bipartisan. Labor (Australia's left-leaning political party) and the Liberal National Party (right leaning) support India and Australian engagement and both want it to be going to a higher level."

Dr Gondone's diplomatic language is not echoed by everyone with some observers concerned that an anti-coal stance at some levels of government in Australia is becoming an anti-India position.

A Bellwether For Future Indian Investment

Jim Varghese, chairman of the India Australia Business Council, said in the same AFR report that no company in Australia's history had suffered such an unrelenting campaign to undermine and discredit it as Adani has.

"The Adani coal project is a bellwether project for more investment from India," Varghese said.

"If it does not go ahead because of political considerations, there will very likely be implications for trade between the two nations."

 

Tim Treadgold has been writing about the mining and oil industries for more than 40 years

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