Adani's Australia gambit, wins, fails, still shrouded in secrecyPublished by MAC on 2017-08-26
Source: Guardian, Newcastle Herald, ABC
A regrettable decision has just been taken by the Australian Federal Court, rejecting an appeal by the country's Conservation Foundation (ACF) against Indian conglomerate Adani's Carmichael coal mine-to-port project on grounds of its massive potential threat to the Great Barrier reef.
It's perhaps a small relief to environmentalists that excessive coal discharges at Abbot Point have resulted in a very modest fine for the company - a "slap on the wrist" that it's nonetheless contesting.
Meanwhile, something is surely awry when the National Australia Bank alleges there is a major lack of transparency in the operation of Northern Australia's Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).
Among its largest investments has been a so-called "concessional loan" towards the Adani project.
Wayne Swann, a former government treasurer, dubs the facility "a government 'slush fund' operated by a board stacked in favour of the
NAIF has also been widely accused of being "cloaked in secrecy, lacking governance and expos[ing] taxpayers to a high risk of losing their money"
What's equally - if not more - concerning is that Aboriginal communities which have strongly argued against Adani's mine are manifestly not
being granted access to vital financial information, to which they are entitled under their right to FPIC.
Adani: Australian Conservation Foundation loses appeal against $16b Carmichael coal mine
By Ellie Sibson
25 August 2017
Environmentalists have lost another appeal against Adani's $16 billion Carmichael coal mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) lodged the appeal last year after an earlier court ruling endorsed the mine's environmental approval.
The full bench of the Federal Court in Brisbane today dismissed the foundation's arguments that the Federal Environment Minister had failed in his duty to consider the mine's impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
ACF spokesman Paul Sinclair said they would continue their fight to stop the mine.
"Today's decision is just another step in the most significant environmental campaign of our generation," he said.
"[It] shows that our national environmental laws are broken and are not protecting the places we love, like the Great Barrier Reef.
"We depend on the passion, commitment and determination of the Australian people to stop the Adani mine."
In June, Adani's board gave final investment approval for the proposed coal mine, which would be the largest in Australia.
In a statement, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Government welcomed the decision.
"[The decision] is consistent with the Commonwealth's interpretation and application of relevant parts of federal environmental law," he said.
Adani Australia chief executive officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj welcomed the court's ruling and said it reinforced the company's legal right to develop the mine.
"This is the third time this week that these parties have failed in their appeals against earlier court dismissals," he said.
"Each of these appeals simply tried to delay a project that will create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.
"The project will also inject $22 billion in royalties and charges into the state coffers to be reinvested back into the broader community."
Adani to fight $12,900 fine for releasing coal-laden stormwater into sea
Environmental groups have lambasted penalty issued by Queensland government as a slap on the wrist
24 August 2017
Adani has chosen to fight a $12,900 fine by the Queensland government for the unauthorised release of coal-laden stormwater into the sea at its Abbot Point port during a cyclone in March.
The Indian energy giant has given notice to the state environment department that it intends to contest the modest penalty infringement notice in court, the Guardian can reveal.
Environmental groups had lambasted the fine, which was issued on 20 July for a technical breach of a floodwater release permit, as a slap on the wrist.
Kelly O’Shanassy, the Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive, said Adani was now “having a laugh” after they “barely got a slap on the wrist” for the environmental licence breach.
“For a multibillion-dollar multinational to challenge such a meagre fine shows real contempt for the Queensland and Australian public,” she said.
“If this is their attitude now, what will it be like it they are allowed to construct a massive dirty new coalmine that would contribute to the destruction of our Great Barrier Reef and threaten our planet with more carbon pollution?”
An Adani company that operates the port dumped water containing more than eight times the permitted amount of sediment during Cyclone Debbie on 27 March. Adani reported the breach to the government 10 days later.
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Adani had far exceeded the “generous conditions” of a special licence to dump polluted water into the ocean during Cyclone Debbie, O’Shanassy said.
The company could still face a separate multimillion-dollar fine if found guilty of causing environmental harm from a release of polluted water into the neighbouring Caley Valley wetlands.
That release is still subject to an ongoing investigation, according to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
A spokeswoman for the department said on Thursday a court date for Adani’s challenge to the fine had not yet been set.
Adani has flagged spending $22bn on Australia’s largest coal project in Queensland’s Galilee basin.
The infringement notice was issued to Abbot Point Bulk Coal Pty Ltd, a company which its Indian-listed parent has been trying to sell to a tax haven company linked to the Adani family for more than four years.
The Abbot Point operator was granted a temporary licence to discharge stormwater with up to 100mg a litre of “suspended solids” as high rainfall from Debbie lashed the north Queensland coast.
But the company told the department it had breached the licence with a release recording sediment at 806mg a litre.
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“The company’s environmental authority and [temporary emissions licence] contained strict conditions that should have been adhered to in ensuring the environment was protected, especially during extreme weather events,” the department said in a statement to Guardian Australia after issuing the fine.
“Temporary emissions licences and environmental authorities are not taken lightly by the department and there can be harsh penalties for companies that breach their approvals.”
The Guardian sought comment from two spokesmen for Adani in Australia.
Adani has previously rejected claims by conservationists that coal-laden water had contaminated the Caley Valley wetlands and possibly coastal waters near the Great Barrier Reef marine park.
The environment department’s director general, Jim Reeves, has previously flagged that “serious penalties” for corporations causing environmental harm through licence breaches included fines of up to $3.8m for deliberate breaches and $2.7m for accidents.
'More transparency needed': Bank questions secrecy of $5b loan scheme
A $5 billion infrastructure loan scheme derided as a secretive Turnbull government slush fund has attracted further criticism - this time from a major bank.
26 August 2017
National Australia Bank - whose own industry is plagued by claims it is opaque and untrustworthy - has raised concerns that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a controversial government loan scheme designed to kickstart private sector investment in the north, lacks transparency.
NAB also warned that the fund was taking a "lender of last resort" approach that may not provide the economic shot-in-the-arm that Northern Australia requires.
The bank's concern adds to a chorus of complaint that the much-vaunted infrastructure fund, which headlined the 2015 federal budget, is cloaked in secrecy, lacks governance and exposes taxpayers to a high risk of losing their money.
The Productivity Commission has warned of possible political interference in the fund's investment decisions, and former treasurer Wayne Swan described it as a government "slush fund" operated by a board stacked in favour of the mining industry.
Among projects being considered by the fund is a contentious rail link from the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland's Gallilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port, near the Great Barrier Reef.
The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has refused to comment publicly on projects it is assessing, or applications it has received.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the facility, NAB said it supported NAIF, and believed protecting a client's confidential information was paramount. But it said the fund's confidentiality practices must be "balanced with the public's interest in NAIF's developments".
"NAIF could consider creating a more transparent transaction pipeline to assist building momentum in projects" under evaluation, the submission stated.
At a Senate hearing this month, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility chief executive Laurie Walker said its confidentiality procedures were in line with that of other lenders, and that the Australian Government Solicitor reviewed the facility's core governance and found it to be "best practice".
Australia Institute researcher Tom Swann told the hearing that while the Infrastructure Facility repeatedly cited the need for confidentiality surrounding potential projects, former Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk "have all repeatedly supported a large concessional loan [from the facility] to Adani for its rail line - including at a press conference with the Australian head of Adani".
In April, Mr Joyce reportedly rejected suggestions that the fund was a lender of last resort, despite 14 banks and financial institutions having refused to provide finance to Adani.
But in its submission, NAB claimed the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility's investment mandate did entail a "lender of last resort" approach, which "may not be sufficient to accelerate investment".
"A more proactive approach could initiate more NAIF funded projects," the submission stated.
A spokesman for Mr Joyce on Thursday said he was "confident the NAIF is working within a robust and appropriate framework, but will consider findings from the inquiry on their merits".
Labor's Northern Australia spokesman Jason Clare said Labor was "deeply concerned" about the fund's governance, adding it had "spent more money on executive salaries and travel perks than it has on Northern Australia".
A NAIF spokeswoman said it understood NAB's comments "regarding assisting potential financiers around creating awareness of potential projects", and that NAIF works with proponents, when appropriate, to "make introductions to other financiers and advisers where they may be able to assist with a project".
She said NAIF's commercial-in-confidence procedures were "in the public interest" as they enabled NAIF to maximise the public benefit in its negotiations.
Australian Conservation Foundation campaigns director Dr Paul Sinclair said the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was "shrouded by secrecy" and "created to bankroll Adani's massive dirty coal project, which would help accelerate the decline of our Great Barrier Reef and further pollute our planet".