Adani today admitted to providing false or misleading documents to the Queensland Government over its land clearing activities, after an investigation sparked by evidence discovered by the Environmental Defenders Office’s client Business Services of Coast and Country Inc.
Adani’s guilty plea in the Brisbane Magistrates Court relates to its 2018 Annual Return, which indicated the company had undertaken no land clearing at its controversial Carmichael mine site.
Evidence subsequently presented to the Queensland Government by EDO and Coast and Country – including high-definition aerial footage – clearly showed extensive land clearing had already taken place at the mine site by the time Adani lodged its Annual Return.
Today, the Brisbane Magistrates Court convicted and sentenced Adani for a criminal offence under s 480 Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) – providing false or misleading documents to the Department of Environment and Science.
Adani was convicted and issued with a penalty of $20,000 plus court costs and investigation costs.
The conviction was made in open court with members of the public present, however the court elected not to record this conviction.
Factors contributing to the decision not to record the conviction included Adani’s co-operation with the Department, the fact this was a first offence for the company, and that there was no proven illegal environmental harm from the substantial land-clearing that took place.
However, the fact a conviction was not recorded does not obscure the fact Adani has been convicted of a criminal offence for the first time in Australia. It is now part of its environmental record, relevant under the Environmental Protection Act (Qld).
It has been noted by members of the public that Adani’s penalty is at the lower end of the scale for an offence of this type, which carries a maximum penalty of nearly $3 million.
This penalty reflects the facts that it was not proven that Adani had intentionally mislead the Queensland Government, and there was no finding of unlawful environment harm.
Adani’s conviction comes in the same week lawyers from EDO and Environmental Justice Australia wrote to the CEO of Adani contractor Siemens earlier this week, outlining this case as well as previous environmental breaches by the company.
Siemens is to provide signaling equipment for Adani’s railway line, however its contract states that the German company has “the right to pull out of the contract if our customer violates the very stringent environmental obligations.”
Environmental Defenders Office’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 .
“Queenslanders expect that when you break the law you face consequences – and today Adani has been issued with a penalty of $20,000 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.”
“Under the relevant legislation, a conviction like this gives grounds for the Environment Department, if they choose, to reconsider Adani’s suitable operator registration as irrespective of if the conviction is recorded or not, the conviction is part of Adani’s environmental record.”
Ms 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 and 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.
“It’s ridiculous that the international track record of Adani is not taken into account here in Queensland when considering their suitable operator licence,” Ms Bragg said.
Derec Davies of 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.
“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.”