If the federal government funds a rail link to Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine, it will become known as the “government-funded billion-dollar ghost train”, an expert in public governance has told the Senate.
Thomas Clark, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, who has decades of experience in public and corporate governance, appeared before a Senate inquiry into the operation and governance of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif), which is considering a $900m loan to Adani’s rail link.
He said the way Naif was conducting itself neglected years of reforms in public finance, and risked returning Australia to an era “when the public sector was discredited”.
Clark criticised Naif’s lack of transparency, pointing to its lack of disclosure of conflicts of interests and refusal to disclose whether or not Adani had applied for funding.
The former minister for resources Matthew Canavan has acknowledged that Naif is considering a loan application by Adani for the railway, and an Adani spokesman confirmed that the company had sought a loan.
Clark said the fact the Naif board was considering the loan for the rail link showed it was was not conducting itself properly. He said it would not benefit the larger community, would harm other coalmines and industries, and threaten the Great Barrier Reef.
“The worry is that the Naif’s structure and processes, and the way the board has been selected and so on has neglected all of that reform and thrown us back to an era of long ago when the public sector was quite discredited.”
He said the corporate history of Adani – which has been implicated in several environmental disasters and governance questions – would make the company ineligible for government funding.
“The serious concern is that if this rail project goes ahead and is funded, it will not only prove a financial and energy disaster, it will also announce to the world the poor standards and poor public governance that allowed this disaster to occur and utilised tax payer money to fund it,” Clark said.
“This will not enhance the reputation of Australia internationally for sound governance and probity in public finance.
“Undoubtedly if Naif funds this Carmichael project, it will become renowned as the government-funded billion-dollar ghost train – a useless waste of taxpayer money to enrich a company based in the Cayman Islands, which the Australian public will not forget or forgive.”
The Senate hearing continues on Friday, and will include an appearance by Naif officials.
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