Last Friday financial analysts across India opened their copy of the Financial Times and saw a full-page advertisement asking if they were going to “sink your profits on the Great Barrier Reef”.
The ad was an investor alert suggesting the GVK/Gina Rinehart Alpha mine proposed for the Galilee Basin in Queensland may be a riskier investment option than they imagined.

It detailed the kind of risks that currently confronted the project beginning with the fact that the project had become embroiled in a major public controversy. The ad explained to Indian investors the clock had now been stopped on the environmental approval process for the project due to conflict between State and Federal Governments and pointed out the project was seriously exposed to carbon and water related risks (both supply risks and impacts of the mine and rail line).

It also reminded investors and analysts the Alpha mine would be larger than any coal mine currently operating in Australia – posing serious project management risks for GVK – which has never built a mine in Australia. It finished saying there was widespread and growing public controversy over the project and that it would continue to face sustained opposition from landowners and environmentalists. And as a result of all of the above, the mine, rail and port were likely to experience lengthy delays and significant cost blowouts.

To put this project in perspective it is a $6.4 billion project, bigger than any other coal mine in Australia at 30 million tonnes of coal per year. That coal will generate the equivalent in carbon emissions of 18 million extra cars on the road every year. It is a vertically integrated project that includes a 500 km railway line from Alpha to Abbot Point. And all of this will generate hundreds of extra ship movements through the Great Barrier Reef every year.

So what kind of reaction did the ad get in Australia? Particularly given it was all about telling people about the risk posed by this investment and that most Australians really do love the Great Barrier Reef .

Treasurer Wayne Swan got out on the front foot to put the slipper in saying he believed the advertisement was “deplorable”. Adding, “They (Greenpeace and GetUp!) should be condemned and I condemn them in the strongest possible way.”

In a moment of solidarity, QLD Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, said he backed the Treasurer in his condemnation saying, “I think it could be damaging for the Queensland economy,” he said Nationals Senator Ron Boswell also joined Wayne Swan in condemning the advertisement, describing it as “very un-Australian”. “It’s guerrilla tactics, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Senator Boswell. Obviously Senator Boswell can’t be seriously comparing putting an ad in the FT with child abuse, rape, genocide, famine, plague, war, drought, murder or any of the uglier aspects of life that really are, “the worst thing” any of us have seen. And many in the advertising game would be surprised to hear advertising described in such militaristic terms.

Putting aside the name calling and hyperbole, there is a larger issue at stake here and that is the question about whose interests these men are representing. Because all these men – Wayne Swan, Jeff Seeney, Campbell Newman and Ron Boswell – are public servants elected by the Australian people to care for the Australian nation and country.

So when the Treasurer refers to the ad as “deplorable” what is he referring to? Is he angry the ad is informing potential investors of the various risks confronting the project? If so, does he seriously think investors should be kept in the dark about those risks? Or does he think it should be left up to GVK and Gina Rinehart to inform investors about the real state of play with these investments. And, as someone paid to represent the interest of the Queenslanders within his electorate how does he square off the fact that if GVK’s and Rinehart’s mine go ahead it will see hundreds of extra coal tankers steaming through the Reef, will be largely serviced by a combination of Fly In Fly Out and foreign workers and will continue to impact on the manufacturing and tourism sector in his own home state?

Jeff Seeney has also been elected to represent the interests of the Queensland community and at first glance his condemnation and comment that he thinks, “… it (the ad) could be damaging for the Queensland economy” seems like a fairly predictable response. Except that this is the same man Environment Minister Tony Burke said he could no longer trust, “… with Queensland jobs. I cannot trust them with the Great Barrier Reef,” at his historic press conference last Tuesday.

Seeney is operating on the assumption that what is good for transnational mining companies is good for working Queenslanders, but as research done by The Australia Institute makes clear, that is an increasingly flawed assumption.

Environmental NGO’s may look like an easy target when they seek to challenge the right of such powerful interest groups like the coal lobby who are in the process of attempting massive expansion in states like QLD – and it is certainly nothing new to see politicians on every side fall in behind the powerful – but it is not in the interests of a smart, resilient, beautiful and growing Australian nation to leave these comments unchallenged. And it is certainly not in the interests of the 54,000 Queenslanders who make their living from a healthy Great Barrier Reef, nor the men and women who are the backbone of communities across Queensland who are losing their employment just because they made the call to find work in manufacturing. Finally, it is certainly not in the interest of the Great Barrier Reef.

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Macken Sense is a weekly metabolic breakdown of media and green events by our astute commentator, Julie Macken. Follow Julie Macken on Twitter @juliemacken