Cricket great Ian Chappell has stood by his opposition to the Adani mine proposal as part of a group of prominent Australians branded “elitist wankers” by a federal government MP and “a very small group of misled people” by the Indian miner.
Chappell said it was “worthwhile” if joining his brother Greg in an open letter calling on the Indian miner to abandon its coal plan thrust the issue into the public spotlight in its cricket-loving homeland.
He said that, as when previously speaking out about Australia’s hardline refugee policies, “you realise as a former Australian captain that there are times when you have a louder voice than a lot of other people [and] there are times to use that louder voice”.
“If it has helped in that regard, to get some publicity in India and give people in India another view on it – and not the view that everyone in Australia is falling head over heels in love with this project – and if it’s got that message across, it makes that worthwhile,” Chappell told Guardian Australia.
His stance comes as the Queensland premier, Annastacia Paluszczuk, was forced to defend her support for the mine during a tour of Adani’s home port in India, where she was confronted by protesters.
Environmentalist Geoffrey Cousins and Whitsundays tourism operator Lindsay Simpson, who co-signed the letter with Chappell and other prominent Australians, challenged Paluszczuk’s claims that the mine would create jobs for Queenslanders.
The Chappell brothers’ involvement ensured the letter was reported in Indian media, including the English–language Hindustan Times and the Times of India.
Chappell, who has written for Indian newspapers for 30 years and was asked by one to write a column about the Adani issue to be published on Saturday, said it was a view the Indian public “definitely wouldn’t have got” otherwise.
He said he “wasn’t convinced that the letter would ever get to Adani” but was glad it had. Adani “categorically” rejected the letter, signed by 91 prominent Australians and delivered to its Ahmedabad headquarters on Thursday, saying it comes from “a very small group of misled people”.
Federal government MP George Christensen ridiculed its signatories as “elitist wankers”, while Queensland opposition treasury spokesman Scott Emerson called on the Chappell brothers to “get on board” with Adani.
Chappell said while he was conscious of not putting his name to “just every cause that comes up”, his views on Adani were the culmination of years of taking an interest in climate change, in part due to the influence of his wife, Barbara-Ann.
“I’ve got a wife who is one, intelligent, two, she’s got a scientific mind, and three, a very strong social conscience,” he said.
“She’s been on about climate change for 20 years, probably before most others, so I’m hearing about it regularly and obviously can make up my own mind.
“I mean, you don’t need to be Einstein when you see the frequency and the ferocity of some of the weather events that we’ve been having, what’s what’s happened to the Great Barrier Reef, and when I’m hearing what I’m hearing from Barbara-Ann and then you put that together, you’ve got to come to the conclusion that things have to change.”
Chappell said he was happy to sign the letter when approached by Australian Conservation Foundation president Geoff Cousins, particularly since it called on Adani to divert its Australian investments away from coal to renewable projects rather than demanding it “just stop” altogether.
“They could well have spent millions of dollars in investigating the project, so it’s very hard to turn around and say just pour that down the drain,” Chappell said.
“I know very little, I certainly don’t have a scientific mind [but] it made sense to me years ago that if you’re one of the first uptakers in renewable energy, if you get in early, there’s got to be a lot of jobs there.
“Everyone talks about the number of jobs that [the mine is] going to bring to that area of Queensland, but what about the people who work on the barrier reef in tourism and so on? Their jobs could well go down the mine.”
Adani in a statement noted the letter was delivered by Cousins, the chairman of the ACF, “whose legal challenge against the planned Carmichael coalmine has been dismissed by the Australian courts”.
“We categorically reject such motivated letters of representation by a very small group of 76 misled people,” it said.
Adani said its mining proposal, which would ship up to 60m tonnes of coal a year for 60 years, was “cleared after rigorous assessments and strict conditions over a period of seven years”.
“The planned mine is supported fully by people of regional Queensland and their elected representatives who in turn represent millions of Australians,” the company said.
“The planned mine will help in providing energy security to millions of Indians who are without electricity while creating thousands of jobs and economic benefits for the state of Queensland in particular, and Australia in general. It is a project which will create enormous social and economic value for both the countries of Australia and India.”
It followed what Cousins said had been a “productive meeting” with senior Adani management, to whom his group explained “the growing opposition to the proposed coalmine in Queensland and agreed to a continued dialogue with the company”.
“We reiterated that we welcome Adani’s investment in solar in Australia but are steadfast in our opposition to their coalmine.”
A new ReachTel poll has found 73% of Australians agree that “the best thing for Australia would be for Adani to invest in large-scale solar power stations, rather than a new coalmine”.
The poll, commissioned by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, surveyed 2,134 Australian residents on Tuesday.
They were also asked whether the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and regional mayors currently on a trade mission to India should be “seeking investment in clean energy solutions like new solar power stations or in coalmines”.
It found 72.1% preferred solar while 14.6% preferred coal.
A copy of the open letter shows 91 signatories, including former Australian environment minister Peter Garrett, Perth-based UK-born comedian and author Ben Elton and investment banker Mark Burrows.
It “respectfully” called on Adani’s billionaire chairman, Gautam Adani, to drop the mine plan for three reasons. It would drive global warming that threatened the Great Barrier Reef nearby, it loomed as a “public health disaster” according to the medical journal Lancet; and it “does not have wide public support in Australia”, the letter said.
ACF is appealing a federal court finding against its challenge to commonwealth approval of the Adani mine on the grounds it did not account for climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef through carbon emissions.
The court ruled the federal environment minister was entitled to find that if Adani did not go ahead, emissions would come from coal sourced elsewhere. The ACF argues this is “the drug dealer’s defence”.