The PM has criticised Westpac’s decision to rule out financing Adani’s coal mine and rail project, as concerns mount over protesters forcing similar climate change reforms from Commonwealth Bank.
Malcolm Turnbull spoke with reporters in Townsville on Monday, three days after Westpac announced strict new climate change policies which effectively rule out any loans from the bank for Adani to build its massive Carmichael coal mine and rail line in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
“I am disappointed that Westpac has made that decision,” the prime minister said.
“I really am. I think these projects should be examined on their merits.”
Westpac announced the new rules after extensive pressure from climate change activists. The bank will now only finance mines with high quality, energy efficient coal.
Westpac’s move also came as public debate continued over a potential $1 billion loan from the Commonwealth to help Adani build the rail line it needs to operate Carmichael.
While Adani was not mentioned in Westpac’s announcement, the company – and its billionaire chairman Gautam Adani – will struggle to see the timing of the news as a coincidence.
In his criticism of Westpac, Turnbull emphasised the importance of a balance of energy resources, including fossil fuels and renewables, in the future.
“Coal has a big role to play for a very long time,” the PM said.
“You know the idea that Australia – the largest coal exporting nation in the world – the idea that we would suddenly walk away from that enormous resource is extraordinary.”
Turnbull called for an energy policy “governed by engineering and economics, not by ideology”.
His comments echoed those of Minerals Council of Australia boss Brendan Pearson, who labelled Westpac’s decision “a textbook case of cynical virtue signalling”.
“The decision appears to have been carefully crafted to rule out support for new projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, including the Adani Carmichael project,” Pearson said.
The MCA boss claimed Westpac had not yet actually been asked for a loan by Adani.
“The bottom line is that one bank, with very limited exposure to the resources industry, is not going to lend to a mine project that it wasn’t asked to support in the first place,” he said.
With their efforts towards Westpac apparently successful, climate activists are reportedly likely to now set their sights on another of the ‘Big Four’, Commonwealth Bank.
CBA is already unlikely to take part in Adani. After working together during the earlier stages of the development, Adani and CBA parted ways in 2015, with environmental circumstances reported by many sources to be key to the bank’s decision.
But protestors may still reportedly target CBA to restrict lending to other fossil fuel projects.
“My prediction is the activists will turn their attention to the Commonwealth Bank,” former GetUp! boss Simon Sheikh was quoted as saying by the AFR.
Sheikh reportedly described CBA’s climate change lending policy as “weak,” with the bank reportedly writing $3.9 billion in loans to fossil fuel companies in 2016, ahead of ANZ at $3.2 billion, and Westpac and NAB at $1.4 billion and $1.3 billion respectively.