Time to show the money at Carmichael

POLITICS is never far away from coal these days, but in the case of the giant mines planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin Hogsback reckons it’s time for a Jerry Maguire “show-me-the-money” moment.

Staff Reporter

For non-movie-goers, Jerry Maguire was a 1996 comedy with a moral dimension which made famous the “show me the money” phrase because that’s what most people want to see in any business arrangement.

The Galilee is no different and while all the big political guns have been fired over the past few days, we are yet to see anyone actually reach into their back pocket and plonk a roll of cash on the table – and until that happens, mines in the Galilee remain prospects, not projects.

Hopefully, but don’t hold your breath for too long, something definite evolves from all the fine words from Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – as well as the latest angry outburst from a man who wants to join the party, that well-known parliamentarian Clive Palmer.

It was the visit to Australia by Modi which re-started optimistic talk about developing the Galilee as a source of coal to power India.

“Queensland can be an important partner in India’s development,” said Modi, who is keen to expand India’s manufacturing sector and to see the country become a regional rival to China though, to do that, he needs to re-build the country’s dilapidated power sector.

Modi’s remarks followed a proposal from Newman for the Queensland government to invest in some of the infrastructure needed by the mines proposed for the Galilee, especially the $16.5 billion Carmichael project of India’s Adani group.

Said quickly and it sounds positive, but it’s when you consider who said what, that the optimism starts to run off the rails because while governments want things to happen it is the private sector which is required to provide most of the money.

Newman’s offer is believed to be short-term, only covers critical infrastructure such as an airport for fly-in, fly-out workers and for railway access – and is conditional on the infrastructure provided by government being available to all miners in the region, not just Adani.

Modi’s comments, while welcome, were little more than the platitudes of a seasoned politician who knows the right thing to say, while also knowing that he isn’t saying anything new, or anything of substance.

What the Galilee needs now is two things that governments can’t deliver. A higher coal price, and a mountain of development capital. In other words, it’s time to “show the real money”

The inconvenient truth about the Carmichael project is that it is roughly $16.5 billion short of shifting off the drawing board and into sod-turning contracts, a point that almost everyone involved with the project seems to be overlooking – though not the bankers on the sidelines.

The money men who have the keys to the capital required to build the Carmichael mine, and other projects in the Galilee, will be only be swayed by financial facts such as the price of coal, the cost to dig it up and deliver it to market – and the likely return on capital invested.

In all the words used over the past few days by Newman, Modi and Palmer, none have addressed those absolutely critical questions.

Newman’s deputy, Jeff Seeney, reckons that the capital will soon flow because the Queensland government is prepared to commit tax payers money to the Galilee with the first big step forward being a $1 billion line of credit to Adani from the Bank of India.

Unfortunately for the government and private cheer squad pushing for Carmichael to proceed, it seems that comments about the Bank of India line of credit were somewhat premature with the early announcement causing a stir in financial and political circles in India.

Adani was queried by Indian stock exchanges and Modi’s political opponents claimed any such loan from India’s central bank would be improper.

Disregarding the political games being played in India it is likely that the backing of that country’s central bank would be a major step forward for Carmichael, but even if the $1 billion is provided there is the question of who puts up the next $15.5 billion?

“The banks want this sort of endorsement from the state government,” Seeney said. “And we want these projects to go ahead because of the estimated 27,000 jobs they will create and the money that will flow into the state.”

There’s no doubt that Seeney is correct in explaining the way big projects are structured with a helping hand from government an important stage of the funding process.

But none of what’s happened around the Carmichael project over the past few days gets any closer to those critical questions of coal price, mining cost and return on capital invested.

Boiled down, Carmichael has reached its Jerry Maguire moment: “show me the money”