Australia

Anti-Adani protest: thousands of Australians demand an end to mega coal mining project

Thousands of Australians protested today against plans by the Indian multinational conglomerate Adani to build the largest coal mine in Australia in the Galilee Basin in Queensland.

The #Stop Adani movement organised more than 45 demonstrations across the country.

“This is a huge national day of action, bringing together families, farmers, workers, faith communities, indigenous leaders, community members and environmentalists united in the fact that building one of the world’s biggest coal mines near the Great Barrier Reef is an environmental, social, and financial disaster,” the organisers said.

In many of the protests, including the one at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, which was attended by more than one thousand people, people created a human #Stop Adani sign.

Adani’s Carmichael mine, which would be one of the biggest coal mines in the world, would be sited on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands. There would be six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines.

Environmentalists say that that Adani’s mine, rail, and port project is disastrous for the Great Barrier Reef, which is already in a critical condition because of bleaching caused by rising water temperatures.

The Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners say the mine would destroy their ancestral homelands and waters, the cultural landscape, and their heritage.

Survey results released this week indicate that there is strong public opposition to the Adani project and to a proposal that Adani should be given a loan of nearly one billion dollars of public money for construction of a rail link to transport coal more than 300 kilometres from the Carmichael mine to the Adani-operated coal port at Abbot Point. The coal would then be exported to India.

About 2,200 people were questioned in the ReachTel survey. A total 55.6% percent said they were either opposed or strongly opposed to the mine project, while 26.1 per cent said they supported or strongly supported it and 18.4 per cent said they were undecided.

The proposed concessional loan of AUD 900 million (about US$ 700 million) for the rail link would be made to Adani by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

When asked whether the Queensland government should keep its promise not to spend public funds on the rail link and use the power is has to veto the proposed NAIF loan, 65.8% of survey respondents said the veto should be used.

The Adani Group is chaired by its founder Gautam Adani (pictured left), whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to total US$6.3 billion. He recently gave final investment approval for the Carmichael project.

However, none of the four main banks in Australia will give the project their backing. Earlier this year, Australia’s oldest and second-largest bank, Westpac, issued a statement indicating that it would not fund the mine.

Defending the project at the time Adani gave it final approval, the then resources minister, Matt Canavan, pointed to the “quarter of a billion Indians who don’t have electricity at all”.

He told ABC television: “This project is ultimately about providing a service; providing a benefit to those people to have electricity and to bring them out of the suffering of poverty and disadvantage, and that does a lot more for the world, our globe, our environment than anyone tweeting in an air-conditioned room in Sydney who might be opposed to this.”

However, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday this week, Julien Vincent, who is the executive director of Market Forces, which is an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia, said: “The initial market mooted for Adani’s coal was Indian power stations. But given that domestic solar is now significantly cheaper than imported coal, the economics have changed.

“Adani knows all about this, as the cost of running its Mundra power plant on imported coal was crippling Adani Power, forcing the power station to be put up for sale for one rupee.”

On the proposal that Adani should receive a 900 million AUD loan from the NAIF Vincent said, that with no commercial backers for the Carmichael mine and the 388-kilometre rail line, “the NAIF subsidy seemed simply to be a waste of public money on a project that didn’t make economic sense”.

Vincent said in the Morning Herald that the proposed loan was effectively a corporate bailout, “essential for Adani’s Australian operations to remain viable”.

The premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Gautam Adani .

An ABC “Four Corners” documentary, broadcast on October 2, catalogues Adani’s alleged bribery and corruption, environmental destruction, tax dodging, money laundering, siphoning money into tax havens, and illegal mining.

Adani denies all the allegations.

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While attempting to film and gather information about Adani’s operations, the Four Corners team had their cameras shut down and their footage deleted and they were questioned for hours by police.

The journalists said they had no doubt that their investigations into Adani’s operations triggered the police action.

In the Four Corners documentary, a mother who lives in Vasco da Gama in the Indian state of Goa, Sandra Correia, describes life near an Adani coal port. She says her youngest son, Stanislaus, gets up in the morning and vomits up coal.

Indian economist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta described Adani as “a business conglomerate that will not stop at anything to maximise its profits”.

Former minister for the environment Jairam Ramesh said a report about the Mundra port found “not accidental violations, but it found wilful violations, deliberate violations and also – very worrisome – what it found was an attempt made to actually gloss over the environmental impact and minimise what was clearly a major environmental impact”.

The Adani Group disputes rulings on Mundra and the Hazira Port at Surat and has appealed against the decisions in India’s Supreme Court.

Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, based in the United States, told Four Corners that Adani had damaged the value of his port at Abbot Point in trying to free up port capacity for the Carmichael mine.

“So, if the mine does not go ahead, Abbot Point is actual collateral damage and the damage is very significant.

Buckley said he had never seen a corporate structure so focused on debt, with so little equity “or, in fact, negative equity everywhere you look”.

One of the many allegations that have been brought against Adani is that it committed a complex US$235 million fraud that allegedly cheated shareholders, tax authorities, and Indian energy consumers.

Adani is accused of inflating invoices for an electricity project in India so that it could shift huge amounts of money into offshore bank accounts.

Details of the alleged fraud were published in The Guardian newspaper in August this year.

The Guardian published extracts from an Indian customs intelligence notice obtained by the newspaper.

There have been numerous reports detailing allegations against Adani.

In February this year, Environmental Justice Australia published a 34-page report entitled The Adani Brief .

Environmental Justice Australia suggests in its briefing that governments and private stakeholders should give serious consideration to the Adani Group’s global legal compliance record, “which demonstrates numerous serious breaches with adverse consequences for the environment and local people” and “the possibility that if this track record continues in Australia, then supporting the Adani Group’s Carmichael Mine and the Abbot Point Port may expose governments and private stakeholders to reputational and financial risks”.

GetUp! Australia has also published a report about Adani entitled “The Adani Files“, which includes evidence from hundreds of court documents collated by Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice.

Wangan and Jagalingou people stand firm

Earlier this week, Adrian Burragubba and Murrawah Johnson issued a statement on behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council.

They said the Wangan and Jagalingou people first voted no to a “land use” deal with Adani in 2012.

“Despite everything they’ve thrown at us, we are still standing our ground against Adani’s intimidation and deceit.

 “We are standing firm in the face of a political and legal system stacked against us, a ruthless company intent on its own profit, and governments conning the public into believing they are putting the community’s needs first.”

Burragubba and Murrawah Johnson, meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst.

The Wangan and Jagalingou people are taking legal action against the registration of documents signed by Adani and the Queensland government and the case is due to be heard in the Federal Court in March next year.

“Adani and the Queensland government need this ‘agreement’ to give them cover for the dispossession and destruction of our lands,” Burragubba and Johnson said in their statement.

“Without our consent, they cannot proceed, except by trashing our rights.”

Burragubba and Johnson said they had provided evidence in court of Adani’s bad faith.

“Our affidavits show they paid key individuals thousands of dollars on a per head basis to recruit people to stack a meeting, even when they are not the right people to speak for country.”

Burragubba (pictured left) says a private security firm was on hand and guards were instructed to keep him out of meetings if he showed up, so there was no Wangan and Jagalingou leader to speak out against the deal.

He added: They didn’t count votes when people did vote ‘no’, and they pretend there is near-unanimous agreement for the mine, when hundreds of traditional owners boycotted this stitch-up by Adani.

“They let in outsiders to the native title group who are looking for employment, and led people to believe there would be large numbers of jobs and money flowing to Wangan and Jagalingou people, when there won’t be. And, of course, they failed to disclose the destructive impacts the mine would have on our lands and waters, and our culture.”

Burragubba says the Wangan and Jagalingou people are standing their ground.

Adani will not go away. They are looking to fleece the public of their money to build a rail line to nowhere – and our governments are bending over backwards to accommodate them.

“The end game on the Carmichael project is drawing near. All people in this country who care about justice and decency, who are concerned for the environment and climate we live in and bequeath our children, must hold the line against this reprehensible project … We must take our fight to the High Court and the UN.”

Sharyn Munro, who is the author of the book “Rich Land, Wasteland; How coal is killing Australia”, was at today’s #Stop Adani protest in Gloucester, New South Wales, which was attended by about one hundred people. She said she was impressed by the number of new faces at the protest as compared with previous local rallies against AGL’s coal seam gas project, which the company abandoned last year.

“It was obvious,” she said, “that this was an issue of grave concern to a more general public, driven to action by our federal government’s inexplicable attitude to this monster mine project, their wilful dismissal of the facts, and their active backpedalling about taking action on climate change.”

“We all know that our Great Barrier Reef will be pushed beyond the brink if this mine proceeds.

“We all know that banks consider it an economic impossibility and cannot see why we ought to be offering it our money.

“We knew that today was about the survival of the planet as a liveable place for humans.”

Munro says she is convinced that the message being conveyed today will eventually be heard, “The more rattling of the can that is done, the sooner it will be heard.”

Today’s protest at Byron Bay.

The former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown (pictured left), says Queenslanders are being kept in the dark about the environmental impact of the mega coal mine and the number of jobs it would create.

“An Adani expert under oath said there would be 1,500 jobs or less, but Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Palaszczuk say it will create up to 10,000,” Brown said.

“If they have confidence in this figure, why don’t they release the modelling? What are they afraid of?”

Will the damage to the Great Artesian Basin aquifers be repaired, Brown asks. “And, if not, what will the permanent damage to our groundwater be?”

Brown says the Carmichael mine is today’s equivalent of the battle to stop plans to dam the Franklin river in Tasmania, which environmentalists won in 1983. He is convinced that people power will also stop the Adani mine.

The 1982-1983 blockade of the Franklin river was the most successful environmental campaign in Australian history.

The #Stop Adani campaign says coal is the biggest single cause of air pollution in Australia, contributing to 3,000 deaths every year.1

Bank pullouts

Twenty four banks around the world have now either publicly distanced themselves from the idea of financing Galilee Basin coal export projects, or have introduced policies that would prohibit the bank from funding the Carmichael mine.

In its announcement in April this year that it would not fund the mine, Westpac said the bank would limit lending to new thermal coal projects “to existing coal producing basins only, and where the energy content of the coal ranks in the top 15 percent globally”.

Under Westpac’s new, tighter criteria, the calorific value of the coal mined would need to meet the energy content of at least 6,300kCal/kg Gross as Received.

The benchmark cited by Westpac is far above the quality of the deposits in Queensland’s Galilee Basin and the coal that would be mined by Adani, which would have an average energy content of 4,950 kCal/kg.

Westpac’s Chief Executive Officer, Brian Hartzer, said: “Westpac recognises that climate change is an economic issue as well as an environmental issue, and banks have an important role to play in assisting the Australian economy to transition to a net zero emissions economy.”

He added: “As a major lender Westpac is committed to supporting climate change solutions that will drive the transition to a more sustainable economic model, and we have increased our lending target for this sector from $6.2 billion to $10 billion by 2020 and to $25 billion by 2030.”

The Australian Greens welcomed Westpac’s decision, and there were numerous messages of support for the bank on Twitter and Facebook.

The then Greens senator Larissa Waters said at the time: “All the four big banks have now ruled out or walked away from helping Adani spew out 4.7 billion tonnes of dangerous climate pollution.

Waters said the Adani mine would be a “climate-wrecking disaster” and letting it go ahead would be signing the Great Barrier Reef’s death warrant.

“Westpac’s decision puts Turnbull and Palaszczuk on notice, people power will win and we will stop this mine.

“We can create jobs and prosperity in regional Queensland by investing in renewable energy and community infrastructure, and by safeguarding the jobs in Reef tourism and agriculture that would be lost to coal-driven climate change.”

Market Forces said in August this year that the Commonwealth Bank’s confirmation that it would not be involved in financing the Carmichael coal mine left Adani in the highly improbable position of financing a major Australian project without the support of one of the “big four” banks.

“It’s desperate measures now for Adani”, Julien Vincent said.

Over the past decade, the “big four” Australian banks (ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, and Westpac) have been involved in 75 percent of fossil fuel project financing deals, providing a quarter of all debt, Vincent pointed out.

He said that, while commercial banks had been publicly unwilling to support the Carmichael mine, the federal government had been escalating its efforts to finance the project via NAIF.

“We’re seeing common sense from financial institutions over this project met with absurdity and recklessness from the Australian government.”

Adani’s response

The associate general manager for corporate communications at Adani Enterprises Ltd, Mitul Thakkar, gave a detailed response to the Four Corners documentary.

He said: “The team from ABC Television, while visiting Mundra, did not adhere to the journalistic codes of conduct and fairness … you and your team landed in Mundra and started filming the sensitive areas without proper permissions and any kind of intimation to the company officials. To our mind it is both unfair and unethical apart from a serious security breach at the industrial site locations in border area.”

Thakkar said the Adani Group “follow every principal of law” that governs operations of companies like itself in India.

He said that, to suggest through a documentary, which in its essence, he said, had been made “surreptitiously and without any legal sanction” was indicative of the fact that “the purpose of the documentary is malafide and riddled with the singular agenda of national shaming”.

He added: “For a reputable organisation like ABC Television to indulge in this form of ethical violation is truly sad.”

He then gave a detailed response to specific allegations.

In response to allegations about money laundering, he said that, on August 22, the adjudicating authority of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had passed orders striking all proceedings launched by the DRI against the Adani Group for alleged money laundering.

This could be only be challenged at the higher appellate authorities and that, too, by governmental authorities, Thakkar said. Since no challenge had been made, there was not only complete acquittal, he said, but a validation of what the Adani Group had always said.

“Adani Group adhere to the laws of the land in which we operate – be it India or any other of the 50 geographies we work in,” Thakkar said.

“To suggest that we are non-compliant, deviant or unethical will once again attract defamation and severe legal action. As an organisation with more than 11,000 employees spread across the world, stakeholders and vertical businesses ranging from agriculture to port to logistics, we cannot be held to either ransom or blackmail by media organisations that indulge into sensationalism without any basis and contrary to facts.

“For any media organisation to jump the gun and believe that we have indulged in any malafide is in itself illogical because we shall have to wait for the Supreme Court of India to pass its judgement. Some of the issues have even attained finality which cannot be blatantly ignored and no damage can be inflicted on Adani Group on the basis of vexatious allegations.”

 

  1. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook Special Report 2016 about energy and air pollution.

Petition to Annastacia Palaszczuk