No plain sailing for Adani

Stop Adani rally in Brisbane, June 21. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The “final” approvals for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland have proven to be a flickering green light, at best. Persistent challenges by the Environment Defenders Office Queensland (EDO) and Lock the Gate Alliance appear to have borne fruit.

The Queensland government announced on July 16 it was prosecuting Adani for allegedly providing misleading information to its environment department over land clearing at the Carmichael site.

The case centres on information in Adani’s 2017-18 annual return that requires information about planned and actual disturbance of land at the mine site. The department alleges that Adani provided false and misleading information about the disturbance already undertaken at the mine.

The EDO said on July 17 that Adani could lose its ability to operate in Queensland if the company is convicted of providing false or misleading information.

The matter is listed for mention at the Brisbane Magistrates Court on August 16. It carries a maximum penalty of two year’s jail or a fine of about $500,000 for individuals, or close to $3 million for a company.

Lock the Gate said on July 16 that Freedom of Information documents show independent Geoscience Australia (GA) scientists working on the Carmichael project’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Management Plan were stalked online by Adani after their names were provided to the company by the Department of Environment and Energy (DOEE).

The FOI documents also show Adani successfully pressured the federal government earlier this year to not release expert advice on the impacts of the mine on groundwater. The advice was only made public after the groundwater plan had been signed off by then environment minister Melissa Price.

According to the uncovered emails, Adani was included in a video conference call with CSIRO and GA about the groundwater work in late 2018. On January 7 Adani asked for the names of all CSIRO and GA scientists on the call and the federal environment department provided this information to them.

On January 15, a GA staff member wrote to the department expressing concern that their LinkedIn profile and that of a colleague were recently viewed by Adani.

The FOI documents also reveal that, in a January 25 email to the federal environment department, Adani demanded to know the names of all GA and CSIRO scientists working on the groundwater plans. Adani described other scientists, who were advising on the Black-throated Finch Management Plan, as “political activists”.

In addition, Adani wrote to the federal environment department on January 9 demanding that CSIRO and GA reports not be released publicly or to third parties. On January 10, the federal department responded saying it would share the advice with Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, but would ask that it not be shared with other parties.

Lock the Gate Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said the documents were further evidence of Adani’s attempts to undermine the independent scientific assessment process.

“Adani has been hell-bent on intimidating and bullying its way to getting its Carmichael mine approved,” she said.

“The company has heavied the Queensland government and journalists, employed so-called  ‘attack dog’ legal tactics to target opponents of its coalmine, and now has been caught singling out independent scientists.”

Smith said it is “unacceptable” that the scientists had been stalked by Adani, adding that their assessments need to be “totally independent and free of outside influence”.

“Yet again, we have seen Adani eager to use any means necessary to drive its polluting coalmine through Australia’s assessment processes without doing the science needed to ensure it won’t destroy precious Great Artesian Basin spring systems.

“The community deserves to know what advice scientists are giving on mining projects well in advance of decisions.”

Sam Popovski, a former livestock scientist and now CSIRO Staff Association secretary, said it was the first time such a breach had been brought to the attention of CSIRO and he was very concerned that “a big company would go into looking at the personal lives of our members” to “potentially discredit their work”.

“It was clear that Adani seemed to be suggesting bias, or potential bias, way before any of the scientific evidence was actually presented to the department”, Popovski said.

“We are concerned that that type of behaviour might be encouraged or used in the future by other commercial entities or parties seeking to achieve a commercial outcome.”

Adani has again stated that its coalmine is ready to go. However, advertisements for the touted “jobs bonanza” are thin on the ground.

It has also said that insurances are in place, but remains coy about naming the company. No doubt the insurer is concerned about damage to its reputation. 

Galilee Blockade and other Stop Adani activists are now focusing on Adani’s potential partners, in particular the international engineering firm Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey (GHD).

Actions are being held outside GHD offices and phone calls are being made to GHD employees to point out the reputational damage of being associated with Adani.

They are also being reminded of Adani’s dodgy track record.

In December 2018, the Queensland Building and Construction commission ruled that Adani owes the US multinational engineering firm AECOM about $12 million for work on a rail link between Carmichael and Abbot Point.

[Margaret Gleeson is a Stop Adani activist in Sydney.]

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