Labor backbenchers are reportedly asking Bill Shorten to wind back his criticism of the Carmichael coal mine, after the Opposition leader said he was “increasingly sceptical” of the proposed $16 billion project this week.
Shorten appeared in South Australia on Tuesday to support Premier Jay Weatherill ahead of the state election later this month.
Asked by media members to clarify his position on the proposed mega-mine, Shorten said his views were clear: he does not support it, but will not tear up contracts or overturn approvals if Labor comes to power.
“I have made it clear that I am a sceptic and increasingly sceptical of the Adani proposal,” the Opposition leader said.
“Labor has said since the last federal election that, if it doesn’t stack up commercially or environmentally, this project shouldn’t go ahead. Labor said at the last federal election that we wouldn’t provide taxpayer funds … I am not a fan of it.”
The risk of damaging Australia’s image for future foreign investment, or opening the government up to compensation claims, would be too high to cancel contracts if they eventuate, Shorten said however.
“The reason why I won’t do that is because I don’t want to expose taxpayers in the future to billions of dollars in compensation claims,” he said.
The statement comes after Labor was attacked by the Coalition and the Greens for having a “duplicitous” position on the mine.
Labor has promoted the potential value of the mine to jobseekers in major regional Queensland seats – at both the federal and state levels.
Cathy O’Toole, who won the seat of Herbert for Labor in 2016 by a narrow margin, has reportedly said she still supports Adani. “We have never taken kindly to people in the south telling us what we can and can’t do,” O’Toole was quoted by the AFR.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday labelled Shorten’s approach to Adani as “two-faced”.
Speaking at the AFR Business Summit in Sydney, Turnbull said regardless of his promises not to tear up contracts, Shorten’s position represented a “genuine sovereign risk” that was bigger than just the Carmichael project.
“Comments from our opponents, the Labor Party, and Mr Shorten in particular over the past few days represent a genuine sovereign risk that will ultimately cost jobs and investment,” the PM said.
“What Bill Shorten is doing is not just threatening the project, he’s threatening every other project and he’s threatening future projects. It will have a shocking, chilling effect on jobs and investment in Australia.”