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Scorched earth: Adani's middle-finger salute sums up a battle without winners

Insights

Has Adani won? After 10 years the company finally reached the coal seam of its Carmichael project in central Queensland and it seems like it has a victory on its hands, writes John McCarthy.

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No matter what you think about Adani/Bravus and coal mining you have to give them points for persistence. 

Yesterday’s announcement of reaching the coal seam was more than self congratulations, it was a massive middle finger to activists, politicians, journalists and naysayers who said couldn’t or shouldn’t be done.

But if it is a victory it is one where the earth behind them has been scorched.

The damage to the company, the industry and even the activists who opposed it has been substantial. It would be hard to think of another company whose brand has been so thoroughly trashed over the 10 years it has taken to get to this point.

So tarnished is the company that banks are refusing to lend to it.

So what is that we have after a decade of close quarter fighting?

Is there a winner?

The truth was the first and very early victim. It was taken out the back and shot a long time ago. Since then it’s been hard to know what to believe.

Trust in the industry has been badly dented. The current skills shortage along with lack of graduates in key professions is, in part, caused by people not wanting to be a part of the mining sector. The anti-Adani campaign fed that.

The Adani debate has divided the community and the industry

The community has been divided and galvanised in some cases along pro-coal and anti-coal lines. The business sector is now wary of touching anything to do with coal.

Activists have become professional and learnt to communicate and organise with a commitment, strength and zeal that was not evident before. 

They can fundraise in a day an amount that would have taken months in previous campaigns and they can attack not just the primary company but also any other company that deals with it.

They have, along with the broader ESG movement, brought the development of thermal coal in Australia to a standstill.

Where that experience and campaigning ability goes from here will be interesting to watch because they would be crazy to waste it.

But Corporate Australia will never be quite so naive again, either. Adani has taught business some valuable lessons as evidenced by other companies that have gone into stealth mode and developed mining and gas projects without barely a hint of controversy.

Politically there have been wins and losses.

The most recent state election showed that the industry was not going to sit back and watch. They attacked the Greens in a campaign that split their own ranks. The Greens went on to win two seats in Brisbane but on a lower statewide vote. The industry called that a win. So did the Greens.

In the last federal election Adani was a key issue as was the broader coal industry and it could be argued was a crucial factor in the Coalition retaining power. Bob Brown’s star power waned a little over that one.

However, the Galilee Basin is likely to be a lonely place. The five other megamines touted for the region are never going to go ahead in any foreseeable future. The market has changed and while coal is still in demand in Asia it’s too expensive politically for anyone to consider it viable.

So after all the damage we are left in a worse position than when we started. People are hurt, money has been lost, division has been created.

While this fight is not over we are heading into the final rounds. There has been no knockout blow but if it comes down to a points decision the activists would win.

 

 

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