Finance Finance News Growing farm jobs is wiser than subsidising Adani’s coal

Growing farm jobs is wiser than subsidising Adani’s coal

agriculture coal Adani
Higher value-added food production is a low-risk growth industry for Australia. Photo: Getty
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Perhaps the Queensland and federal governments should just issue an apology to future generations of Queenslanders before lending or giving hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to coal giant Adani for its Carmichael mine.

Because, as a new report prepared by Australian Research Council laureate John Quiggin shows, they will be putting the jobs of thousands of Australians at risk to directly create “336 full-time positions”.

Mr Quiggin’s report, Growth opportunities and constraints for agriculture in Northern Australia, is funded by farmers themselves, through the lobby group Farmers for Climate Action.

It notes: “Agriculture is worth more than $18 billion to Queensland, employs 55,400 people and is growing. If the Adani mine goes ahead, it will place current and future jobs in agriculture at risk, because of the risk the mine poses to groundwater resources.”

Adani has won approval from the Queensland government for a 60-year unlimited licence for use of groundwater, as well as a $320 million “royalty holiday” for coal extracted.

On top of that, it is asking the federal government for a $900 million loan to build a railway to port from the Galilee basin.

Jobs diversion

The report by Mr Quiggin – a prominent economist and policy commentator based at the University of Queensland – examines in detail how the $900 million could be used to generate far more jobs in agriculture, and produce “greater social benefits and subject the Commonwealth to a lower level of capital risk”.

Adani has in the past claimed that its Carmichael mine would create 10,000 jobs in the region, but this was later cut back to an estimate, from its own consultants, of just under 1500 jobs.

However, that estimate is for the total number of jobs created by the project and other industries with which it interacts – everything from mining services companies to lunch vans.

Mr Quiggin told The New Daily on Wednesday that his report did not consider the multiplier for jobs created more widely because “there is no easy way to model those jobs, and Adani has got into a fair bit of trouble trying to do so”.

Instead, he has kept to the more solid estimates of directly created jobs.

His report finds: “Net employment gains from the Adani rail project will generate approximately 336 full-time jobs, averaged over the term of the loan.

“Taking the ratio of the loan value to direct employment, this is a public capital investment of $2.7 million per job created, far in excess of the net present value of the future wages these employees are likely to earn.”

Economists use “net present value” to assess projects, by discounting “stocks” and “flows” of money back to present-day sums. If the total sum of these amounts is positive, the project is worth pursuing, but if it is strongly negative as Mr Quiggin reports, it’s a loss-making scenario.

And, of course, the loss to taxpayers becomes worse if the mine project collapses and the principal of the loan is not paid back.

Mr Quiggin has estimated “632 jobs per year over 10 years” would be created in the agriculture sector, if the $900 billion were redirected away from Adani. He considers seven types of investment including:

  • transport infrastructure upgrades;
  • land regeneration projects;
  • improved natural disaster preparation and response;
  • agriculture research funding;
  • boosting agricultural training in the TAFE system;
  • improving water infrastructure; and
  • improving access to finance for farmers.

Jobs of the future or past?

The word that separates the job prospects in the Carmichael mine from those in agriculture is “risk”.

The Quiggin report argues that coal faces a shaky future “as the world moves to enact the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The decline will be particularly severe for high-ash thermal coal of the type to be produced in the Carmichael project”.

By contrast, growing and adding value to food is about the lowest risk enterprise going. The report says that demand “is certain to grow as the world population increases and becomes wealthy enough to demand high-quality diets including more meat, fruit and other horticultural products”.

Overall, this report highlights, yet again, the extraordinary short-sightedness of the Palaszczuk and Turnbull governments in even considering the Adani requests for taxpayer assistance.

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