Resources minister steps up extraordinary Westpac attack over Adani coalmine

Matt Canavan accuses bank of conflict of interest over policy to limit lending for coal projects to ‘existing coal-producing basins’

Matt Canavan has redoubled his attack on Westpac – accusing the bank of a conflict of interest over financial links to the Newcastle port – as a direct competitor to future coalmines in the Galilee basin.

“This stinks to high heaven,” the resources minister told the ABC in response to the bank’s new policy to limit lending for new thermal coal projects to “existing coal-producing basins”.

“You’ve got a situation where the Newcastle port has been actively campaigning against the development of the Galilee basin because in their view it hurt their interests to have other competing coal basins.

“And you had a situation a few days later with Westpac saying we shouldn’t develop the Galilee for climate change reasons but at the same time not disclosing their financial interest in the Newcastle port.”

Hastings, a fully owned subsidiary of Westpac, manages investments for the Infrastructure Fund (TIF) and other funds. This includes the Newcastle port, which is part owned by TIF, and ships coal for mines in the Hunter Valley.

Canavan said as the funds manager for “half of the owners of the Newcastle ports” Westpac had a financial interest in the Newcastle port doing well.

“At the very least you would have thought they would have disclosed those relationships at the same time as they were making direct comments on the development of a competing coal basin,” Canavan said.

The minister also attacked the bank’s chief executive officer, Brian Hartzer, accusing the “bank of New South Wales” (as it was known until 1982) of having no understanding of the Galilee basin, the home of Adani’s planned $16bn coalmine.

“It’s clear to me at least at the high levels of the bank of NSW they really have no understanding of the Galilee basin and I’m not criticising the fact they don’t but then don’t go and make comments about it when you are not fully informed,” Canavan said.

As an enthusiastic supporter of the Adani mine, Canavan has led a sustained campaign against Australia’s second largest bank since it released its updated climate change policy which limits lending to existing coal areas and only for coal over a certain quality.

While Westpac did not mention Adani in its policy, these two conditions effectively ensured the Adani’s Carmichael mine was ruled out.

Canavan immediately criticised Westpac and urged Queenslanders to boycott the bank, even though he has a Westpac account. Canavan, a Queensland senator, has also supported Adani’s application for a $1bn government loan.

Canavan said Westpac had made no commercial assessment of the Adani project but it was illogical to rule out coal basins in north Queensland, some of which would be higher quality coal than product from the Hunter Valley.

“I’ve got no criticism of institutions seeking to establish good climate change credentials,” he said. “The criticism I have is of the illogicality of Westpac’s position – and now it seems some conflicts they have, they have not properly disclosed.”

Westpac set a limit for coal of a quality of 6,300 kilocalories per kg or above as the threshold for investing in new coalmines. Canavan said even though three mines in the Galilee basin would be above that limit, Wespac would not fund them “just because those are in north Queensland”.

“Now that would be worse for the environment, worse for climate change because you would be denying finance to coal mines of a higher coal energy specification,” he said.

Westpac released its original climate change policy in 2008 and its latest update was released after consultations with Ernst and Young and Climateworks, an independent not-for-profit organisation whose founding partners include Monash University and the Myer Foundation.

In a statement Westpac said Hastings was a fund manager, not an owner, of the Newcastle port.

It pointed out both TIF and Newcastle ports had their own boards and governance arrangements and TIF also had an interest in a number of airports in north Queensland.

“It is important to note Westpac provides finance facilities to 400 large businesses in north Queensland,” a spokesman said. “This includes four coalmines, five coal ports and three LNG facilities.”


Gabrielle Chan

The GuardianTramp

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