Senior Turnbull government ministers have written a formal letter to China’s government to confirm that the controversial Adani Carmichael coal project in Queensland has passed all necessary environmental approvals.
Frances Adamson, the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told senators on Thursday that Adani may have requested the letter to help it secure funding from the Chinese.
Adamson said the letter was signed by the minister for trade, Steve Ciobo, and the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce. It was addressed to the National Development and Reform Commission in China.
Australia’s big four banks have all ruled out lending to the Carmichael coalmine project.
Last week, the Adani Group promoted a bizarre video advertisement on Facebook in which it responded to revelations its Australian coal operations faced growing financial risks.
The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, asked if the letter was sent at Adani’s request, and the attorney general, George Brandis, said he didn’t know.
But he admitted the government had made the representation to China “to dispel the misinformation campaign of those from the radical left”.
“The Australian government continues to welcome foreign investment that is in our national interest, including the Adani investment in the Carmichael mine project,” Brandis said.
Adamson said the letter was probably generated from a request from the Indian mining giant but she’d have to confirm later.
“My interpretation of what would have happened is the Adani company will have themselves been assessing how they can fund the project [and] in the course of that assessment they’ve looked at a range of different sources and I think what they did was request a statement of fact, if you like, from the Australian government which the Australian government, given its support for the project, ministers were happy to provide,” she told the Senate estimates hearing.
“It was a statement of fact, where the project is up to, and a statement of endorsement, or support, by the Australian government.”
She said the letter had not been written by anyone in her department. She denied claims Australian diplomats had been masquerading as financial brokers seeking foreign backing for the project.
“It’s not Dfat’s role to seek finance for the project,” she said.
The progressive thinktank The Australia Institute had used freedom of information laws to seek documents from Dfat and was told Dfat had “several hundreds of pages” relating to formal representations to foreign financiers.
Adamson said on Thursday the volume of documents to be reviewed did not imply a significant amount of departmental activity.
Senator Nick Xenophon asked if it was unusual for Australia’s deputy PM and trade minister to write letters to a foreign government agency, rather than to their equivalent ministers, of the kind in question.
Adamson said she did not think it was unusual.
Adani claims the project will create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in central Queensland, but that figure has been pilloried by the Australia Institute.
The mine’s fate is also resting on a $1bn government loan for a rail line to the Carmichael mine, a decision that is in the hands of the independent Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (Naif).
Brandis said he understood that the Naif had not yet decided to lend money to Adani.
With Australian Associated Press