Five challengers oppose treasurer on the coalmine, while in Mallee the Nationals candidate distances herself from Queensland colleagues
— Josh Frydenberg spent the first night of the election campaign defending the Coalition’s decision to approve the groundwater management plan for the Adani coalmine to a room of 600 voters in his electorate of Kooyong, where climate change has emerged as a key issue.
Speaking at a candidates’ forum hosted by the local environment group Lighter Footprints at Hawthorn Arts Centre on Thursday night, Frydenberg said the project still had to pass nine more approvals after the environment minister, Melissa Price, granted the latest approval on Tuesday, of which he said the “most fundamental” were with the Queensland government.
“In this case on the water issue, we took the advice of the CSIRO, of Geosciences Australia, and that is why it has gone to the next stage,” he said.
Labor has indicated it may push for a review of the approval decision because the timing of the election announcement meant a planned estimates hearing where the CSIRO would explain the extent of its advice did not go ahead.
The Adani coalmine is expected to cause difficulties for Frydenberg in Kooyong. Of the six candidates at the forum – also there were Labor’s Jana Stewart, the Greens’ Julian Burnside and the independents Oliver Yates, Bill Chandler and Angelina Zubac – he was the only one who did not criticise the project.
About a quarter of the 260 questions submitted by the audience in the packed venue were about Adani.
Yates, a former Liberal party member and chief executive of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, said the project had lost all social licence.
“For a government that represents its people and for a member who represents this audience to be continuing to support a project that its electors in this area do not support is an extraordinary position for a local member to take,” he said.
Burnside said suggestions that voters in Kooyong would vote solely on economic rather than environmental issues was “a mark of the contempt with which the Liberal party see this electorate”.
“They can’t even imagine the possibility that this electorate would turf them out.”
He dismissed concerns of sovereign risk over the Adani project as “a meaningless expression as a matter of law”.
“I would say if there’s a contract which Adani could enforce I would hold to account those members of the outgoing Liberal government who signed the contract,” he said.
Yates, Burnside and Chandler had the strongest support from the crowd.
Stewart said she “personally [didn’t] agree with Adani” but that Labor would take a “balanced approach”, prompting Chandler to hop to his feet and step from side to side, saying: “This is Labor jumping from one foot to another on Adani, they keep moving on it all the time.”
At a separate climate change forum in Mildura, the Nationals candidate for the western Victorian seat of Mallee, Anne Webster, engaged in some heavy product differentiation from her Queensland party colleagues.
“The only people I’m beholden to are the voters of the Mallee electorate,” she said.
“Some of you possibly thought I would come tonight and talk about climate change not being real … I want to assure you that I make up my own mind, have my own opinions and I’m not afraid to stand up to others.”
While four independent candidates at the forum emphatically panned the Adani project, Webster said: “Renewables ought to be our focus.”
She said she would not be afraid to cross the floor of parliament on a range of issues.
Webster is seeking to continue the Nationals’ hold over the seat after it was vacated by Andrew Broad following allegations of inappropriate conduct during an official government trip overseas.
The forum was divided on whether there needed to be a federal royal commission into the Murray-Darling basin plan, with Webster and the independent Cecilia Moar, a former farmer, opposed, and the independents Jason Modica, Allen Ridgeway and Ray Kingston in support.
by Calla Wahlquist, Lisa Martin | The Guardian