The Indian multinational conglomerate Adani, which is set to build the biggest coal mine in Australia, was yesterday (Thursday) fined AUD20,000 after pleading guilty to providing false or misleading information to the Queensland government over its land clearing activities.
Adani’s guilty plea in the Brisbane Magistrates Court relates to its 2017/2018 annual tax return, in which Adani stated that it not undertaken any land clearing at its controversial Carmichael mine site.
Evidence presented to the Queensland government by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and its client, the conservation charity Coast and Country, clearly showed that extensive land clearing had already taken place at the mine site by the time Adani lodged its annual return. The evidence included high-definition aerial footage.
No conviction was recorded against the company, which faced a fine of up to AUD3 million if convicted under the Environmental Protection Act.
Adani pleaded guilty to providing false or misleading documents to the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.
“The fact that a conviction was not recorded does not obscure the fact Adani has been convicted of a criminal offence for the first time in Australia,” the EDO stated.
The EDO and EJA cite the penalty infringement fine of AUD13,055 imposed on Adani in April last year for its release of contaminated stormwater from the Abbot Point coal port into the Caley Valley wetlands, which are adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The fine was issued by the Queensland government for a breach of a condition of its environmental authority.
The EDO and EJA also wrote that, in May 2019, “Adani avoided continued prosecution regarding a separate coal-contaminated release incident at the port by entering into an enforceable undertaking to improve stormwater release monitoring to marine waters”.
The EDO’s Brisbane executive director and solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg said: “Today’s guilty plea and sentencing is an important outcome and we congratulate the Queensland government for successfully prosecuting Adani for providing false or misleading information.
“Our client obtained evidence that Adani had provided false documents to the Queensland government. This was not self-reported by the company; it had to be discovered by members of the public.”
Bragg added: “Queenslanders expect that when you break the law you face consequences – and today Adani has been issued with a penalty of AUD20,000 plus court costs and investigation costs.
“However, given the criminal nature of this conviction, the Queensland government must now consider cancelling or suspending Adani’s suitable operator registration.”
Bragg also called for urgent law reform that would take into account Adani’s international track record when assessing the company’s suitable operator status.
Whether in Queensland or overseas, entities in the Adani Group have a concerning history of failures to comply with environmental laws, often with serious adverse consequences for the environment and local people, Bragg says.
“It’s ridiculous that the international track record of Adani is not taken into account here in Queensland when considering their suitable operator licence.”
Derec Davies from Coast and Country said: “Despite Adani’s misleading annual return, we were able to identify land clearing activities at the Carmichael mine site and provided high-resolution satellite imagery evidence to the Department of Environment.
“Adani can’t be trusted. Time and time again the public has heard of environmental damage caused by Adani in Australia, and around the world. In this instance they were caught red-handed being misleading about it.
“The company then tried to excuse its false and misleading statement in documents as an administrative error.”
Davies added: “Adani now has a criminal conviction here in Australia. This gives the Queensland government the ability to recall Adani’s suitable operator registration, which effectively would terminate the Carmichael coal mine.”
After Coast and Country went to the Queensland government with the land clearing allegations in September 2018, state and federal environment department officials inspected the site.
Adani later amended its return to declare a total of 132 hectares cleared, including 5.8 hectares in the reporting period.
A spokesperson for Adani Mining said yesterday: “Adani will not have a conviction recorded after self-reporting to the Queensland government that we made an administrative error in our 2017/18 annual return for the Carmichael mine.
“We today pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrate’s court for providing the administering authority an erroneous document and will pay a AUD20,000 fine.
“This is in relation to an administrative error. There was no environmental harm, all relevant works were legal, and fully complied with our project conditions.
“We took responsibility for the administrative error at the time and introduced improvements to internal processes when it was discovered in 2018 and reported by us, to ensure paperwork errors of this nature are avoided in the future. We are pleased this matter is now resolved.”
Greens senator Larissa Waters said a criminal conviction was a legal trigger for the federal government to review and revoke Adani’s approval.
“The federal government must now cancel Adani’s approval and I’ve lodged a motion in the Senate today calling for just that,” Waters said.
Siemens urged to cancel Adani contract
The Carmichael mine would be sited on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands in the Galilee Basin. There would be six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines.
The coal would be transported from the mine to the Adani-operated coal port at Abbot Point, and would then be shipped through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area for export to India.
The German company Siemens is to provide signalling equipment the 200-kilometre railway line that Adani plans to construct from the Carmichael mine to Abbot Point, however its contract states that the company has “the right to pull out of the contract if our customer violates the very stringent environmental obligations”.
Bragg said that lawyers from the EDO and Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) wrote to the Siemens CEO, , Joe Kaeser, earlier this week, outlining the land clearing case as well as previous environmental breaches by Adani.
The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council has also written to Kaeser calling on Siemens to prove that it conducted due diligence regarding their rights as First Nations people when it entered into a contract with Adani Mining in Australia and to suspend its contract with Adani.
“Siemens is the only company left in Australia willing to undertake this work for Adani,” the council said. “Without it, there is no viable rail link to Adani’s mine of mass destruction.”
Siemens has come under intense pressure from climate activists in Germany and Australia in recent months. In December last year, Kaeser announced that the Siemens board would review the company’s involvement in the project. The company subsequently issued a statement confirming that they would not pull out.
Kaeser stated: “There were competitors who have been competing. Thus, whether or not Siemens provides the signaling, the project will still go ahead.
“There is practically no legally and economically responsible way to unwind the contract without neglecting fiduciary duties.
“However, given the importance of legitimate environmental concerns, we have secured the right to pull out of the contract if our customer violates the very stringent environmental obligations.”
The Wangan and Jagalingou council said it was particularly concerned by the Kaeser’s statement that “the Adani mining project has been approved by the government of Australia, the highest courts and – very important to us – the indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou people.”
‘No Free, Prior and Informed Consent’
Council spokesman Adrian Burragubba points out that there has been no Free, Prior and Informed Consent for the Carmichael mine project.
“There is no Wangan and Jagalingou ‘approval’ that is consistent with our rights under international law, or in accord with our own laws and customs,” Burragubba said.
It is incontestable that the mining leases held by Adani were granted by the Queensland government without consent, agreement or authority from the Wangan and Jagalingou people, in clear breach of their rights, Burragubba says.
“The engineering of a meeting by Adani and the State to overturn our decisions and ‘approve’ the mine did not retrospectively validate these leases. It merely added ‘a veneer of consent’ and served to divide our people.”
Burragubba says it is not true that “the highest courts” have approved the Carmichael mine.
“There has never been a High Court of Australia case regarding Adani, and any litigation in the supreme and federal Courts – whether on grounds of environmental harm or assertion of Aboriginal rights – were administrative reviews only; they did not ‘approve the mine’ or consider the merits of the arguments against it.”
In August last year, the Queensland government quietly extinguished native title rights to the land on which the Adani mine will be located.
Burragubba said at the time: “We have been made trespassers on our own Country. Our ceremonial grounds, in place for a time of mourning for our lands as Adani begins its destructive processes, are now controlled by billionaire miner Adani.
“With insider knowledge that the deal was already done, Adani had engaged Queensland police and threatened us with trespass.”
In June last year, The Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) approved Adani’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) for the Carmichael mine, which would be one of the biggest coal mines in the world.
Environmentalists are horrified that approval was given despite warnings from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Geoscience Australia, and leading water scientists about the negative impacts of the mine.
The Wangan and Jagalingou council said the Queensland government’s decision to approve Adani’s ground water management plan imperilled their sacred Doongmabulla Springs and the water essential to their lives.
“Draining our water for Adani’s massive coal mine will irreparably damage the ecology of our homelands. Without the water, everything will struggle to survive,” the council said.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said the approval was “a very bad decision” for the Great Barrier Reef that puts millions of corals and ocean wildlife on the Reef at risk.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaigner Shani Tager said: “Put simply, this decision is bad news for everyone who loves and relies on a healthy Reef and bad news for the dolphins, turtles, fish, sharks, rays, and corals that call the Reef home.”
Over the past nine years, there have been fierce protests against the Carmichael mine project. There have been numerous legal challenges and demonstrators have even locked themselves onto machinery at the mine site.
The former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, says that the Adani corporation’s “dirty coal mine” is an impending disaster with effects that would reach far beyond Australia
In a hard-hitting opinion piece for The Guardian, published in March 2017, he wrote that stopping the Adani coal mine is “the environmental issue of our times”.
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.
The group has an alarming environmental record GetUp! Australia has published a report about Adani entitled “The Adani Files“, which includes evidence from hundreds of court documents collated by Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice.
An ABC “Four Corners” documentary, broadcast in October 2017, 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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