Coal Reef

Coral Bleaching (Picture: Penn State)

Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine, since approved, has long been the target of criticism from Green groups and general public. Protests against Adani and Malcolm Turnbull’s government have been a national movement which is backed by green groups such as Greenpeace Australia. The first anti-Adani protest outside Mr Turnbull’s office was held in May and there are more to come.

Protest Against Adani (Photo: Zhehao Chen)

Malcolm Turnbull under pressure to declare discussion with Adani over Native Title (Video: ABC News)

In contrast to the rising protests from green groups and the public, Mr Turnbull’s government shows great support in all issues related to Adani’s Carmichael coal mine. Last month, the Prime Minister met with Mr. Adani in India to discuss the further $1 billion investment in railway construction around Carmichael coal mine. In early June,  Austrak won a $82 million concrete sleeper deal to Adani’s rail project, which like a cardio-tonic shot to Carmichael coal mine project.

Different receptions reflect conflicts:  the conflicts between burning coal and bleaching reefs, conflicts between Adani and Great Barrier Reef, more fundamentally, it is the conflict between tourism industry and mining industry.

Reef, Not Only Reef

“Stop Adani, Save our Reef”, as one of the slogans held by environmentalists wrote in a protest outside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office in Edgecliff on 25 of May.

In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is under the threat of massive bleaching and could be died out in the next 10 years, said Dr. Terry Hughes from Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies during a panel speech in University of Sydney. The “reason of the present bleaching was global warming”, he says.

Up to 50% of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest ecosystem, has died because of massive back to back bleaching event over the past two years, and the bleaching event was caused by burning coal, there is a direct link between burning coal and bleaching,” says Nell Schofield, a climate leader who used to be a filmmaker. The Carmichael project, which plans to build the Australia’s largest coal mine in Queensland “does completely antithesis with the issue”.

Coral Bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef (Video: National Geographic )

While environmentalists protesting for the dying reefs, Queensland local communities is facing more critical situation: Losing one of world’s largest reef ecosystems could also bring catastrophe to local communities as well as the tourism industry behind Great Barrier Reef.

According to a report conducted by Deloitte, Great Barrier Reef could contribute $7 billion annually to Australia including Tourism, Recreation, Commercial Fishing and Scientific Research. Tourism industry takes the biggest portion of it (91%), contributes $6.4 billion which is one of the income of Queensland. Tourism industry also provides 64000 full-time equivalent jobs, and that was 2013. According to Ms. Schofield, “There are 70000 jobs rely on healthy reefs, with tourism, which can generate more than $7 billion in 2016.”

If Great Barrier Reef dies, so does the tourism industry in Queensland. Based on a survey to international and domestic tourists, Australian Institute predicts that continued coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef could cause massive dropping on international and domestic visitor numbers (more than 1 million people), hence cause $1 billion economic loss in tourism income. Dying reefs means unemployment and poverty to local communities, if I may once again quote the word from Ms. Schofield, “these people and the whole industry have been sacrificed to Adani.”

Price On Reef: Losing Australia’s most famous Great Barrier Reef in the next 10 years. Losing an industry that worth $7 billion every year. Losing almost 70000 full-time equivalent jobs. Poverty Unemployment to local Communities.

Adani, Not Only Adani

If built, Carmichael coal mine would be Australia’s largest coal mine construction which according to Prime Minister Turnbull, will “create tens of thousands of jobs and will generate, over the course of its life, an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties, revenues for state and federal ­governments” during a press conference in India.

When fully operational, the mine is expected to produced annually 60 million tonnes of coal for 50-60 years, creating more than 6000 full-time equivalent jobs over 60 years. As for economic contribution, Carmichael could generate more than $700 million to Mackay regions and Queensland in construction and production sectors. In addition, there would be $5.5 billion in royalties and taxed in the first 10 years.

Compare to tourism industry in Queensland, Carmichael coal mine seems to provide less jobs and make less contribution to state economy, but Adani is actually supported by the entire mining industry in Australia.

(Screenshot: Australian Industry Report )

Mining industry is a significant primary industry and contributor to Australian economy. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott described mining as one of the major “Five Pillars” of Australia economy which can generate $140 billion per year, contributes around 7% to Australia’s GDP, far more than Tourism Industry (2%). The industry employs around 2% of the workforce, about 220,000 people and a further 599,680 in support industries. Most importantly, mining products make up almost 50% of Australia’s total export incomes.

Economic Performance of Australia (Screenshot: Australia Industry Report)

For some historical and economic reasons, Australia heavily rely on its mining industry especially on coal. According to Australian Energy Report, 90% of black coal production was exported which makes Australia world’s largest metallurgical coal exporter by volume in 2015, which generated $34 billion. In addition, Australia’s coal export also heavily rely on Asian booming, almost 81% of coal was exported to Asian countries such as India, China, and Japan. Domestic market also demands huge volume of black coal due to electronic production, 63% of electricity in Australia is generated by burning coal.

With strong economic performance and dominate position, mining industry can easily influence the policies making process by using lobby groups and huge political donation, which some people believe are the reasons behind Carmichael’s approval – including Ms. Schofield: “There must be huge political donation behind it,” she says.

To Mr Turnbull’s government, stopping Adani not only means losing taxes, revenues, royalties, but also means losing 6000 job opportunities which they promised to create during their election campaign. Losing 6000 jobs might somehow mean losing 6000 votes, it is not surprising the political decisions are based on votes, as well as economy. On the other hand, stopping Adani could raise concern from mining industry, which may cause chaos and long-term depression to Australia’s major economic pillar. Furthermore, support from mining industry means much more to federal government compared with tourism and  environmentalists. The truth could be even more complex then that.

Price On Mining Industry: Losing a company worth $16 billion and 6000 full-time equivalent jobs. Losing huge taxes and in royalties of local and federal government. Potentially damage an industry worth $140 billion per year and 220,000 job opportunities. Losing 50% of Australia’s Export incomes. Stopping Australia benefit from Asian booming. Losing major energy and electricity because 63% of electricity in Australia is generated by burning coal.

There is no doubt that coal mine represents an old way of development. The tertiary sector and renewable energy are the future of Australia, especially solar energy and tourism industry in Queensland. But changing means both risk and chance, how to solve the conflict between coal and reef, tourism and coal mining, how to choose from short-term benefits and long-term interest, that is for us to decide.

More Reading

ABC News: Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching could cost $1 b in lost tourism, research suggests.

Deloitte Report: Economic Contribution of Great Barrier Reef.

The Guardian: Great Barrier Reef: tourists will go elsewhere if bleaching continues.

Australian Industry Report 2016

2016 Australian Energy Statistics

Australia’s Major Export Commodities Coal Fact Sheet

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