Labor leader Bill Shorten is trying to hose down the internal backlash prompted by his outright declaration he does not support the massive Adani coal mine in Queensland, insisting the hardening of his language is consistent with his reservations over the project.
A spokesman for Mr Shorten also maintained a future Labor government would not rip up contracts if the mining project does get approval to go ahead.
With some Labor figures concerned Mr Shorten’s rhetoric over the mine will hurt the party’s chances in key Queensland marginal seats, the government seized on the Opposition Leader’s comments to accuse him of lying to regional Queensland voters and those in inner cities.
Speaking in Perth on Monday, Mr Shorten put on record his strongest opposition yet on the $16.5 billion Carmichael mine.
“I don’t support the Adani project,” Mr Shorten said.
“It’s been spoken about since 2011 – that’s a matter of record. It’s had numerous deadlines. If you believe the initial hype and booster-ism about Adani, they’ve been shipping coal out of Australia for the last three years. And indeed in your paper and others, you do report periodically how they keep failing deadlines. So I’m a sceptic. I’m not supportive of it.”
“In terms of the commerce, no Australian bank will invest in it, no Australian super fund will invest in it. My plan for jobs in regional Queensland doesn’t involve putting all our eggs in one basket; how many more deadlines can this business fail to meet? We have seen what happens when you rely on one person to deliver the jobs and I’m referring to QNI, Queensland Nickel up in Townsville, which was Clive Palmer’s operation. Thousands of people were let down.”
Faced with the upcoming Batman by-election in Melbourne on March 17, where Labor is struggling to hold the seat against the Greens, Mr Shorten has taken an increasingly hardline against the Adani mine, saying last week he did not like the project.
But Mr Shorten’s latest comments sparked alarm, with one unnamed frontbencher telling Sky News Mr Shorten had “lost the plot”, was “off the reservation”, and embarking “on a frolic of his own against the party position”.
The frontbencher warned Labor would not be able to win the next election without Queensland seats like Townsville-based Herbert “which love Adani”.
A spokesman for Mr Shorten downplayed his comments.
“Nothing’s changed. It’s no secret he’s not a fan of the project,” the spokesman said.
“Bill has consistently said it has to stack up environmentally and commercially, and so far it hasn’t. He’s also been clear that Labor governments don’t rip up contracts or create sovereign risk.”
Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar said Mr Shorten’s shifting position over Adani was putting thousands of jobs at risk.
“Bill Shorten is a liar, let’s not mince words here,” he said.
“He has lied time and time again and its catching up with him. The day of reckoning where you tell lies to one group and lies to the other and you say one thing in Batman and another thing in Queensland, it will catch up with you.”
This article was originally published by the Australian Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.