Labor’s environment group wants party to make clear its stance on Adani mine

Labor’s influential internal environmental lobby group has called on the federal party to clarify its stance on the controversial Adani coalmine, a project it says is not in the national interest.

The national convener of the Labor environment action network, Felicity Wade, told Guardian Australia on Tuesday the party needed to make a decision.

“It’s time for Labor to make its position on Adani clear,” she said.

“The Adani mine is not in the national interest and does not have broad community support. Digging up low-quality polluting coal isn’t a winning strategy in a carbon-constrained global economy.”

Wade’s intervention follows a signal from the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, on Monday that there was an ongoing role for coal in Australia, and a strong speech to the Sydney Institute by the opposition spokesman on climate change, Mark Butler, who said development of the Galilee basin was not in Australia’s national interest because it would displace mining and jobs in existing coal regions, and would not help the world meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement.

Labor has been signalling publicly since the end of January a more hardline stance on the Adani project, and the party has been looking at a range of legal mechanisms that could be used to stop it.

But the signalling, which has coincided with a byelection in Batman, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, where Labor will face off with the Greens, has not yet resulted in the party adopting a concrete position on the project.

The powerful mining union warned last week that Labor adopting a more hardline stance on Adani would trigger a divisive internal ALP debate on the future of the coal industry, and cost Labor political support in Queensland.

Shorten is visiting Queensland coastal electorates this week armed with infrastructure announcements, and while on the ground in Townsville sent a clear message that Labor was not anti-coal or anti-mining.

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. Shorten said his party’s position on Adani was it “has to stack up commercially and environmentally”.

Butler, who has been on the record opposing Adani for almost a year, gave a less hedged message on Monday night.

He said developing the Carmichael mine would fly in the face of current market trends, where export volumes for thermal coal had been flat for several years, and would also be inconsistent with the International Energy Agency’s advice “on what the world needs to do … to keep global warming well below two degrees”.

Wade acknowledged it was more difficult for Labor to adopt a definitive stance than it was for the Greens. “Unlike for the Greens, for Labor all decisions have real world consequences,” she said.

“The grand gesture that destroys confidence in central and north Queensland and leads to the election of another Coalition government undermines climate action more fundamentally than the fate of any individual mine.

“If Labor is to take the lead of the financial markets and oppose Adani, we must take decisive action to ensure genuine economic activity and jobs in north Queensland.

“As Labor people we understand why economically vulnerable communities object to the sense that post-materialist elites in the south want to decide their futures.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that the Adani mine will be bad for the global climate.”

Wade said Labor should use the Adani decision to offer voters in Queensland a comprehensive regional development policy, and to overhaul the national environmental protection framework, which was sorely lacking.

“As Labor struggles to work out how the Adani mine’s problems can be dealt with through legislation, never has there been better proof of the need to revamp the laws and institutions charged with ensuring we get the trade-off between economy and environment right,” she said.

“Ideally we get to a point where community confidence in the approvals process saves us from these politically divisive messes in which nobody wins.”

The Greens climate spokesman, Adam Bandt, has accused Labor of saying different things to different constituencies.

“If Shorten came out today and said Labor would stop Adani from going ahead if they win next election, like Hawke did with Franklin Dam, the project is dead,” Bandt said Tuesday. “Time for clarity, Labor, not fence-sitting”.

Labor’s candidate in Batman, Ged Kearney, told Guardian Australia Labor needs to be “sensitive to the communities” in Queensland that are facing a jobs shortage.

“I think I have been really upfront about my view of Adani that … I sincerely don’t think it stacks up, particularly financially,” she said.

“What I have learned at the ACTU is you can’t just say, ‘Stop something.’ There’s a whole complexity and a whole raft of social, economic and legal issues that has to be dealt with. It’s a hard message. It’s not a two-word slogan; it’s a complex message.”