Why Palaszczuk's nuclear option on Adani was 'the messiest' choice possible

Labor insiders say opposing taxpayer funding of the Carmichael coalmine should have been ‘an open and shut issue’

Seeking to solve a problem that threatened to derail her re-election campaign in its infancy, Annastacia Palaszczuk opted for the nuclear option on Friday, announcing rumours of a planned “smear campaign” by political opponents had led her to decide to veto any federal loan for the proposed Adani coalmine.

These political opponents, an angry Queensland premier told reporters in a surprise press conference shortly before the evening news bulletins, sought to use her partner Shaun Drabsch’s work at PwC, which was helping facilitate Adani’s application for a $1bn federal loan, against her.

So, despite claiming her integrity remained intact, Palaszczuk said she would remove any doubt of a conflict of interest by removing not only herself but the state’s participation in the loan process: a Palaszczuk Labor government would veto the federal government loan, scuttling its hopes, under the constitution, of progressing.

The problem, at least as far as many within Labor are concerned, is the premier made it to the right decision, one it was heading to internally anyway, but went around it “in the messiest way possible”.

“It was a case of the right policy but the reasoning for it has been a little on the convoluted side, which has just opened up further issues,” a Labor campaigner told Guardian Australia.

“Why they let it go on for as long as they did, why they let it become an issue like it did, I don’t know. It was where we should have been [not supporting the loan], it was where we were heading, they just took longer than they should have to announce it.

“But why they used the reason they did, I don’t know. It’s just bogged them down again when it should have been an open and shut issue. Federal Labor have been openly against it. Bill [Shorten] has been up in the regions talking about how he doesn’t support public funds going towards it. So it wasn’t a secret.”

The problem, slightly bemused Labor insiders said, was Palaszczuk and the treasurer, Curtis Pitt, became a little too “gung ho” in their support for the mine.

Pitt, whose electorate sits in north Queensland, is particularly vulnerable to claims Labor doesn’t support the working class. Palaszczuk, attempting to prove she “governed for all Queenslanders”, went further than many in Labor, particularly those on the left, were comfortable with in her vigour to support the mine.

“She went to India in March and she didn’t need to do that,” another within Labor said. “All of a sudden, we were the biggest supporters of the mine. And we had said no to public funds while fighting Newman but then the waters were muddied by the Naif announcement, that they could fund it, federally, and we never really cleared it up like we should.”

By May, the cabinet had agreed not to let Queensland handle the funds, or let them go through its account.

But despite federal Labor continuing to push back against the proposed Naif solution, Palaszczuk tarried in stating Queensland’s position. That helped the Greens find a stronger foothold in inner-city seats, such as South Brisbane, held by the deputy premier, Jackie Trad, by becoming the only party to outright reject the mine.

“It got messy,” another senior Labor source said. “It didn’t need to happen. This idea that it would hurt us in the regions, well, Bill has been saying he’s against it and there has been no pushback that we can see.

“People right across the board are against the idea of taxpayer funds being used to support a private mining company, even if they are for the mine. Alan Jones was against it, for goodness sake. It wasn’t going to cost us anything and, in fact, would have helped in areas like South Brisbane.”

The tightrope Palaszczuk is attempting to walk has just been made trickier by her reasoning for finally ditching the state’s support for any public funds flowing to Adani infrastructure.

The alleged conspiracy she pointed to on Friday stemmed from rumours the Coalition and the Greens were preparing to hit her government with its conflict of interest story.

When the rumblings were first heard, Labor was unsure who it related to. When it became apparent it was the premier and Drabsch, a last minute damage mitigation plan was enacted.

The “plot” has been laughed off by both the federal Coalition and the Greens but rumours remain it was in play.

But now, Palaszczuk’s rivals are enjoying the quagmire her decision has created. While Labor hoped to move on from the issue and clear the air for some of its campaign announcements, it has led to questions about other projects Drabsch may have worked on and what conflict could have existed in other areas.

“It’s messy, I won’t deny that,” a fourth Labor source said. “It’s bogged her down when it didn’t have to. Mistakes have been made. Probably starting with going to India. Now she is being made to defend the line on why she made the decision.

“We got into this mess by not being crystal clear about where we stood and now we are in another mess by not being crystal clear about why we were doing what we were doing.”

Still, others believe it won’t have that much impact on a campaign that was already murky on where it would find its winning electorates.

“At the end of the day, it has numbed some of the attacks from the Greens and that is a good thing,” a fifth party insider said. “And we got it out before One Nation hit the road, because they know as well as we do that taxpayers, no matter if they want to work in the mine or not, don’t want to be paying for the damn thing.

“So we have a point of difference with the LNP and we need more of those if we are going to get close to 47 seats. We shouldn’t have been in this mess. And we shouldn’t be in this mess now.

“But it’s done and we got to where we should have always been, especially given it would have only given us a consistent message with what we were saying federally. I don’t think it will win us new seats. But I think it might help save a couple.”


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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