Bill Shorten says there’s a ‘role for coal’ and Adani mine just ‘another project’

Bill Shorten has declared there is a role for coal in Australia, and characterised the controversial Adani coalmine as just “another project” as he digs in for several days visiting marginal coastal electorates in Queensland, trumpeting local infrastructure commitments.

The positive public signal from the Labor leader on the future of coal followed a warning last week by the CFMEU’s national president, Tony Maher, that any move by Labor to block Adani’s controversial Carmichael coalmine would expose Labor politically in Queensland, and open a divisive debate within the ALP about the future of coalmines in Australia.

Maher told Guardian Australia last week that promising to block the Adani project would raise questions, like “what do you do with the next [coalmine], and the next one, and the one after that?”

Shorten has sent a number of clear public signals since the end of January that Labor intends to toughen its position on the Adani project, and policy work has been under way internally since before Christmas.

But despite all the signalling – which started just before the resignation of the Labor MP David Feeney, a development triggering a byelection in the inner-Melbourne electorate of Batman, where local anti-Adani sentiment is a significant issue – thus far the federal ALP has not revealed any detail about how it might move to stop the project.

In Townsville on Monday, Shorten told local reporters there was a role for mining in Australia, and “there is a role for coal in Australia” and he echoed Maher’s description of Adani as just “another project”.

Last week, Maher told Guardian Australia: “I see no reason for Labor to toughen its position. Why win Batman and lose in central Queensland?”

“The environment groups have worked themselves up into a passion about [Adani]. I don’t know why. Adani is just another project and it should be judged on its merits.”

In Adelaide the shadow infrastructure minister, Anthony Albanese, told 5AA that Labor had not taken any decision to oppose the mine.

“That’s not the decision that we have made,” Albanese said. “We have certainly been very questioning about the project, about its financial viability, whether it will go ahead.

“We’ve been quite rightly questioning about the impact on water and some of the environmental consequences of the project,” he said.

“But Labor has to stand up for Labor values and one of the things about Labor values is about jobs and making sure the economy can function.”

Shorten said in Townsville, while unveiling an expansion of the local port, that Labor would stand up for “real blue-collar jobs” and the next “pipeline of work”.

He said of the Adani project that it was highly unlikely to get finance, and the promised jobs associated with the project had not materialised. The Labor leader said his party’s position on Adani was it “has to stack up commercially and environmentally”.

There are a range of views within federal Labor about what to do about Adani. Labor sources have told Guardian Australia that internal consideration on legal mechanisms to potentially stop Adani remains ongoing, but the party is also focused on sending a clear message to Queensland that Labor will produce a regional industry policy that blue-collar workers can believe in.

The ALP and the Greens will go head to head in Batman, and anti-Adani activist groups are already active in the contest. Melbourne voters go to the polls on 17 March.